Incite Blog

The Sadnesses

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sad priscilla home

MMy new book, A Conspiracy of Breath, deals with some very dark subject matter. My heroine, the historical figure Priscilla who is mentioned several times in the Bible in conjunction with her husband Aquila, miscarries her first child. However, even though she did not have a full-term pregnancy, she nonetheless experienced what we would today call post-partum depression.

Though I have not personally experienced that kind of depression, I have seen it in someone I love. It was excruciating to watch. Here is how I described Priscilla and her friend Cordelia in the midst of this mental trial.

It was the nighttime that was worst. Each evening, to Aquila’s bewilderment, I would feel myself begin to splinter like wooden table legs when a wagonload is unloaded onto it. I was defenseless against the inchoate darknesses, the sadnesses, the murky irrationality of fears that seemed to partake of my own flesh and make it their substantial own and that in the night watches gathered into a singularity, a faceless entity of dread.

Once when trimming Aquila’s fingernails, I accidentally drew blood. For the rest of the night I lay and thought of a hundred ways I could injure my own hand.

I began to wonder if I were losing my mind. Then this substance began to come to inhabit daytime hours too, and within days was so constant a companion that I could see the concern in Cordelia’s eyes.

“This is the way of many women after a child,” she told me, “and it will pass.”

But it did not pass. It grew.

“You have not had a child,” I said one day. I knew my words hurt her but I could not stop myself from infecting her with the sickness-dark that was within me. “So how can you assure me, since you have not had a child?”

Her words were quiet and her eyes averted.

“Nor did you experience having a child,” she said, letting her voice linger on what she said. “But you have all the other effects. This is the way of many women, and once you have looked it in the eye, it will begin to leave you.”

But this aspect of woman-ness did not leave at once, or all at once. It became a secret, shared companion to her and to me both, an unwelcome guest for whom we set a place at the table of our conversations and looked in upon at dusk and midnight and acknowledged each dawn.

But with each sunrise its once-irresistible pointing finger began to lose its authority to dominate and direct; and one morning we both knew that it was leaving its garments behind and would visit again, but that it no longer resided with us.

Have you experienced post-partum depression? What were its symptoms for you?

Reason #203: Guest Post, “Not the Jesus of Joseph” by Kathy F. Sanders

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Not the Jesus of Joseph

I forever cut my ties with Mormonism after I discovered the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus of Mormonism were not the same person.  Jesus was never an elder brother who had the most valiant plan in the pre-existence during a Council in Heaven. Jesus was, is and always has been absolutely God, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  Only blood from the real Jesus can wash away the stench of our sin.

Soon after experiencing this spiritual cleansing, I devoured all the supposedly “anti-Mormon” literature I could find and realized it was actually “truth literature” that carefully and concisely peeled away the layers of Mormon deceptions. Everything I read only confirmed my suspicions that the Jesus of Joseph Smith could not and did not produce the fruit of the true Holy Spirit.

Underneath the “Families are Forever” slogan with the pictures of neat, clean freshly scrubbed families lay a darker truth. The reality was a bloody and checkered history of a religion whose founder and immediate successor had no compunction about breaking God’s laws concerning adultery, divination, prophecy and possibly murder. Everything was focused on building an earthly kingdom with strict obedience to human rules and regulations, where allegiance to the latter-day prophet and his “restored church” reigned supreme. Loyalty to God was hopelessly intertwined with loyalty to the church. Only their “true church” held the keys to eternal life and no one else. Relying upon Jesus alone for salvation was not in LDS church theology.

As I read the Bible with new eyes I came to understand that Jesus was never my elder spirit brother, or the spirit brother of Satan, or only a perfect example. Jesus was God in the flesh who loved me and gave himself for me in spite of all I’d ever done or left undone.

Kathy F. Sanders

Saccharine Saints: Is it defamation to “add to” a Bible character?

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One of the challenges of writing Biblical fiction is that, in order to make sure that people mentioned in the Bible don’t come across as “saccharine saints.”

Even though the protagonist of my biblical historical fiction book, A Conspiracy of Breath, could be identified solely from the Bible as Pristine Priscilla, I portrayed her with very human characteristics:  envy, stubbornness, depression, and even anger.

I recently read an interesting article about the legal implications of writing about actual people. (Do you know what constitutes defamation? According to this article, you should!)

Of course, Priscilla isn’t around to counter any way I portrayed her.

Here is an excerpt from A Conspiracy of Breath. What are your thoughts on this?

“But I have some good news. James, the Lord’s brother, will be there.”

I had heard of this man, whose vows to not cut his hair left him with dreadlocks that touched the floor (his tribute, he said, to his late cousin the Baptist.) A man who had once accused the Christos of moon-sickness, of lunacy. I yearned to meet this man of such history and will.

“I’m listening,” I said after a while.

“And I have heard that he is writing a letter, a general letter, to all believers.” Aquila knew how to coax me.

“Yes?”

“And that he has done this under the direction of what you would call the Holy Breath. He has described this, this Holy Breath.”

I leaned forward, hardly able to contain myself. Aquila requisitioned the words he had heard.

“He says it is like the carrying-away of Ezekiel.”

I knew that feeling.

“And you say he is collecting what he is told, what he hears and knows, to write in a letter?” I stumbled over my own words.

Cordelia and I looked to the corner where a pale earthenware jug held my scrolls, its opening plugged with burlap.

“Yes,” he said.

“Just like me.”

Aquila looked away.

My anger reeled like a drunkard, off balance and unreasonable.

“Oh, have you begun to doubt me, Aquila?”

His eyes widened and he shook his head slowly but did not speak. Cordelia hurried from the room.

I felt tears corrupting my vision.

“I saw how you looked at me, in the valley, and then with Peter, when the Breath came to me.” I was sobbing.

He reached for me but I pulled away.

“Peter didn’t believe me, and you don’t either.”

“I do believe you.”

I could not stop sobbing. I was afraid others would hear, so I tried to quiet myself but choked out syllables without words.

“I do believe you.” Aquila’s voice sued.

I felt the draining-out feeling again. I gathered all my strength to speak. “Peter didn’t want to hear that a woman could have the Holy Breath.”

Aquila took the spasms of my shoulders in his hands and straightened me up to look at my face. For some reason, I thought of how the Holy Breath would have cupped the shoulder blades of Jesus and pushed him into the desert temptation.

Aquila’s words were deliberate, his eyes on mine.

“No, Priscilla. Peter didn’t want to hear that a Gentile could have the Holy Breath.”

Priska Front Cover Amazon

The Woman Who Would Carry God

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Many women loved Jesus. Some followed Him around and cooked for Him, just to be near Him. At least one didn’t cook for Him, on purpose, just to be near Him.

But one woman loved Him enough to carry Him around. Literally, to carry Him around.

priska vase 1

When He rose from the dead, Mary Magdalene, the gospel of John tells us, remained outside the trampled tomb. The disciples had believed her about the vacated gravesite but once they saw for themselves, they went back home.

Mary’s grief, though, couldn’t be contained. She stood outside the door – did her tears spatter its threshold? She stared at the two angels, headboard and footboard, with their questions; but couldn’t meet the eyes of the man who’d silently approached behind her.

He asked questions, too; but she had some of her own. Urgency: Where did they take Him?

And an offer: I’ll go get Him, she said. (Using the same word to describe what the paralytic did with his superfluous mat – he picked it up and carried it. The same word of the actions of angels for a flailing, falling God – they’d carry Him in their hands.)

I’ll go get Him, Mary said, I’ll figure out a way to carry Him to wherever His body can be treated with the respect due His suffering.

No wonder Jesus looked at her, nearly speechless: He said only her name.

Mary. The woman who was willing to carry God.

Her actions set up, or perhaps perpetuated, what became a job description for women of the early days of the Church, the so-called “bone gatherers” who sought out the bodies, and fragments of bodies, of their martyred brothers and sisters.

Thus it is that we see Priscilla, in the opening pages of A Conspiracy of Breath, performing the function of a bone gatherer:

Praefatio

I carry the wrapped child in front of me, in the crook of my aching arm, his head above his curled feet, as if he were alive. As if he had ever been born, or named, or drew breath, or saw his dying mother’s eyes. As if she had ever seen his.

This is night work, and the mule beside me stumbles in the uneven, now unseen streets that only reveal shadow and character in the light of a doorway, here and there. All around our feet are what people throw away after a spectacle—torn banners, scraps of food, dropped, lost mementos.

Behind me on the creaking wagon are the remains, what I gather after the spectacle: torn things, fallen, saved, remembered.

When I first began this job, I could do it in the daylight. It was a curiosity to those who saw me, a woman who wore the robes of aristocracy and did the work of a ghoul. Most of those who knew me would not meet my eyes, or if they did, it was with a mixture of disgust and wonder. And later, some of them, with triumph, from behind secure windows, around impassable gates.

The first time I gained permission to bring the bodies back from the killing places, Cordelia began to strategize how to borrow a cart and donkey. Many of our friends still lived and had animals then, and she still had a bit of her father’s money left.

“We’ll need a big wagon,” she calculated, counting without knowing it on her crooked knuckles, imagining that the aftereffects of imperial entertainment would necessitate strong beasts of burden, perhaps several trips with several wagons.

She wasn’t thinking straight, I should have seen that. There is little left when wild lions are finished with a human being.

I lined the wagon with pieces of old goat-hair tents. People bring me the ripped flaps, snagged beckets, unsalvageable vestibules. When my needle cannot resurrect them, they leave the raveling remnants with me.

At first, I thought my supply was endless and I threw the blood-crusted pieces away. Now I wash them before dawn and let them dry for the next load. My shop, miles away, is where there are no sewers, so my gutters are red ropes each sunrise. My neighbors blink in the sunshine, step over, cross to the other side of the street.

It will take me most of a night-watch to bring the wagon from the circus maximus to the catacombs. I hold my other hand out in front. It is only because I once lived in this neighborhood that I can navigate in darkness so profound I feel blind. The darkness is a covering for me, I must remember that, a veil that keeps me hidden.

For further reading:

Where are the Voices of the Acts 2 Women?

Is the Holy Spirit Always a Gentleman?

On Trances and Ecstasies:  Thanks for Nothing, Bernini

Priska Front Cover Amazon

 

Competence: Mary and Martha

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COMPETENCE AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MEASUREMENT IN THE STORY OF MARY AND MARTHA

Copyright  Latayne C. Scott

 

The issue of competence is one that plagues Christians; and the knotty problem of what is proper for a Christian to measure and assess troubles us too.

 

First of all, when we think about the psychology of measurement, we know that the Bible teaches that not all measuring is wrong.  Jesus said that we should judge, but do so with a right judgement.

 

We know of other examples of measuring, such as counting the cost of discipleship.  Jesus said that before a man builds a tower or goes to war, he must make sure that he has the resources to finish or to win.  Jesus assessed His own situation:  He knew that being equal with God wasn’t robbery, but made the decision to take a lesser station and become a servant in order to die for us (Philippians 2:6-8).  He even told us that love has a measurable quality, and the greatest love is that of when a person is willing to lay down his life for a friend (15:13)

 

But many times when we evaluate our own experiences, we measure as “good” that which is pleasant or makes us immediately happy or comfortable, and as “bad” which is painful.

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Here Peter teaches us not only how to evaluate our own experience as whatever helps our faith grow is good; but he also teaches the relative value of that faith—it’s worth more than gold (or by extension, any thing on this earth that we would regard of lasting value.)  It must be noted that suffering for its own sake is not alone redemptive.  That aside, this passage teaches that suffering for a Christian can and should be beneficial because it contributes to our faith if we weather it as a Christian.  It also teaches us that we should regard our own personal histories not as preferable or non preferable; but as either committed to God or committed to a worldly or rational way of assessing it.

 

The short book of 1 Peter mentions suffering 26 times; and “grace” 11 times.   It shouldn’t surprise us that the whole book is summed up in 5:10:

 

And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.  To Him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

 

When we define the concept of competence, we think of it as being the ability to do something—anything from decorating to calculus; but it is inherently always involved with limits and measuring.  In fact, we use all kinds of things as clocks to measure even time:  our mortgage is a way of measuring how many months left to pay; the tread on our tires tells us how long we have to drive before they have to be replaced.

 

The lessons of the Old Testament are that God always calls us to measure things differently than it is our nature to do, and that we must always operate beyond the levels of our own natural competence.  The walls of Jericho did not fall because of the competence of the war skills of the Israelites.  Gideon did not choose his troops on the basis of his own competence in evaluating soldiers.  Moses couldn’t convince Pharaoh on the basis of his own speaking skills.  David didn’t kill Goliath because he was a great warrior.  Abraham and Sarah didn’t produce a child at the age of 100 because they were so good or practiced at producing children.  The children of Israel inherited wells they didn’t dig, vineyards they didn’t plant, houses they didn’t build not because they were great soldiers or accomplished farmers or competent at anything but picking up manna off the desert floor.  They were given those things simply because it pleased God to show His power by giving such rich gifts to the puniest of nations.

 

Competence is also an issue in 2 Corinthians.  In 1:8-11, Paul describes a situation where he felt “great pressure far beyond our ability to endure.”  He was in over his head, above his level of competence.  He despaired of even living and felt that he was condemned to die—“we felt the sentence of death in our hearts”.  But God taught him an important lesson through this feeling of inadequacy, of not being competent to endure the situation or triumph in it.

 

But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us. . .” –2 Corinthians 9-10.

 

He reasoned that God is a God who can even raise the dead, so a deadly peril that threatens us, or a feeling of imminent death in our hearts, are all under His control and teach us to look only to Him for help.

 

God calls us to reason in such a non-natural manner.  And He wants us to act non-naturally too.  He tells us not to pray like the pagans do (Mt. 6:5-13) and not to worry like the pagans do (Mt 6:25-32.)  In fact, Jesus calls us to do all kinds of non-natural things, to live beyond the levels of our own competence as He enables us to do what He commands.  What He commands us to do, He will surely give us the power and the competence to do.

 

In 2 Corinthians 2:16 Paul has told about the responsibility of being the aroma of Christ to the perishing, and he asks, “Who is equal to such a task?”  Who, he asks is competent to do such a thing?

 

He answers his own question in 3:5:

 

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit, for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

 

The apostle Peter was uniquely qualified to give believers advice about gaining competence through suffering.  Competence has two elements:  ability and worth.  Peter had tried to test his own abilities by walking on water, and had to be helped by Jesus.  He knew about worth issues –he was the one who’d denied Jesus three times and abandoned Him at the cross.  Maybe Peter’s failures at the ability and worth aspects of competence are why he relied so much on grace.

 

Many people in the world teach that if you make the right choices in life, that will lead to pleasurable outcomes. In school they tell our children that if they stay away from drugs they won’t get arrested for possession, or if they abstain from sex they won’t get pregnant or have venereal diseases.  While it’s true that you shouldn’t do drugs or have sex outside of marriage, you can’t guarantee you won’t have these results.  Tell the woman with AIDS who was faithful to her cheating husband who gave her the disease; or the girl who was raped, or the child who was slipped drugs in a soft drink.  While right behavior can help you avoid certain consequences, it doesn’t guarantee it and can’t be depended on to guarantee it.

 

As 1 Peter teaches us, a Christian should expect to suffer.  Trying to avoid unpleasant circumstances and feeling God has let us down when they come is not what the Bible teaches.  One of the greatest Christians of all time, Paul, was sent a message to be delivered to him right after his baptism when Ananias was told, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My sake.”  Again, we must assess or measure the acceptability of a circumstance not by how much we like it at the time, but by the standards Peter set out in 1 Peter chapter 1:  whatever builds our faith is good, no matter how it makes us feel; and whatever brings glory to God is good, no matter how we like it or not.

 

We have also been told another lie by the world:  that the role of human imagination is to be glorified, and that we are to “dream big dreams.”  In fact, several years ago a minister used to go around to congregations telling them, “Whatever the mind of man can conceive, the will of man can achieve.”  He glorified human creativity and imagination.  However, when we read the words that in the King James Version of the Bible are translated as “imagination” :  dianoia (Luke 1:51), dialogismos(Romans 1:21), logismos (2 Corinthians 10:5) , meletao (Acts 4:25)—we find that these have connection with the Hebrew word that has at its root the idea of something that is “twisted.”

 

Only once in the New Testament do we find the idea of imagination being positive—and that is in Ephesians 3:20.

 

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power which is at work within us,  to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

 

Here we see that our imagination is just a frontier beyond which God through His power that is at work within us, can act.

 

New Age teaching is that we should use our imaginations as a net that we throw into the waters of the future, hoping to snag and drag in what we want.  That has been brought into religious thinking with the “name it and claim it” philosophy.

 

But the Bible teaches something very different.  When Jesus says that He will meet all our needs, that means that He has provided for them before we ever even stumble upon the realization that we lack something.  It doesn’t just mean that tomorrow He will give me what I need; it also implies that since He meets all our needs, I must have today what I truly need.  Thus I can assess my needs in terms of what I now have.

 

Competence and Measurement in Mary and Martha’s Lives

 

We first meet Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.

 

  • Martha is, according to the Greek, “distracted about much serving.” She has made the assessment that what she is undergoing is too much and not fair.  She has made this assessment based on how it makes her feel and it has distracted her.
  • She believes that the job has not been equally or fairly distributed. She accuses Mary of “leaving her alone to serve.”
  • She didn’t go to Mary alone but tried to involve Jesus (as did Mary the mother of Jesus at the marriage at Cana) in a situation that really didn’t involve him.
  • She was “anxious” in a pagan way, just as Jesus used the word in Matthew 6:25.
  • She was mentally divided. James 1:8 describes a double-minded man as being “two-souled.”  Martha was similarly divided and was worried about “many things.”
  • Jesus showed that there was a finite situation here, and that Mary had chosen the “best part.” The word “part” or meris in Greek refers to an allotment like the share of an inheritance in Colossians 1:12.  The pie had been divided, and Mary had chosen the best part.
  • Jesus wanted Martha to know that her competence to serve –the physical ability and the talent to do the tasks she was doing—wouldn’t last forever. Our elderly sisters in the church understand this –if you live long enough, you do not have the physical ability to serve by cooking and doing other things.  But Jesus wants us to know that the best part of serving Him—sitting at His feet, quietly listening to Him –will not ever be taken away, and is the very best part of service.

 

We meet Mary and Martha again at the death of their beloved brother Lazarus in John chapter 11.

 

  • Here we see that Jesus begins by assessing the situation of Lazarus’ health and subsequent death in a way that even his close disciples couldn’t understand. He said that the dead Lazarus was “sleeping” because He knew that he would awaken, even though his condition of death was very real.
  • Jesus saw no reason to hurry –not because the situation wasn’t serious, but He knew that His glory and glory for His Father would be increased by His waiting.
  • By the time Jesus does arrive, Martha has begun to put limits on Jesus’ ability or competence to deal with the situation. “If you’d been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died,” she says.  In other words, geography had limited Him, according to Martha.
  • When Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, she assumes that Jesus competence is limited by future time as well; for though she believes that her brother will rise again, she doesn’t believe it can happen before the resurrection in the last day. She tries to voice her faith in the fact that though He hadn’t saved Lazarus before, she knew He had complete access to the power of God.
  • Jesus then gave Martha a chance any believer would treasure—the opportunity to express faith in Him as the Son of God.  He has just told her that the resurrection isn’t just a future event—He Himself is all the power and non-natural miraculous ability that that implies.
  • Martha goes to call her sister Mary who also operates on the assumption that Jesus’ power had been limited by His geographical distance from her dying brother.  Jesus, deeply moved, goes to the tomb of Lazarus where His heart breaks with grief over the power that death has over the minds of believers.  Those who watch Him there, though, are also measuring His abilities.  Some of the Jews are willing to concede that He was able to heal blind people, but why, they ask, was He not able to keep this man Lazarus from dying?
  • When Jesus commands that the stone sealing the tomb be taken away, even Martha who believes He is the Son of God, limits His abilities. She doesn’t want the smell of a decomposing body to come out.  Jesus rebukes her and tells her not to focus on the situation as it is, but to focus on the glory of God.
  • Then Jesus pauses and prays not just for communication with God. He prays so that the people who are observing will make no mistake about the relationship that Jesus has to the Father before He performs the miracle of restoring life to Lazarus, and restoring him to the loving and welcoming arms of his mourning sisters.
  • Even a miracle as colossal as restoring life to a man who’s been dead for four days doesn’t produce faith in all the witnesses of the event. Some put their faith in Him while others plotted His death.

 

John 12:1-8

 

The last time we see Mary and Martha, things have really changed.  A dinner which is given in the honor of Jesus is remarkable for many reasons.

 

  • The danger of being associated with Jesus is very real; yet His friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary ignore the danger and give Jesus a feast to show their appreciation for
  • Martha is serving Jesus, but doing it gladly and without complaining. She has learned how to serve as is necessary but without resenting what others do.
  • Mary shows no limits—no frugality in the extravagance of showing love to Jesus. She takes a fabulously expensive jar of unguent perfume and poured it on His feet.
  • Judas immediately begins measuring the monetary value of the gift, instead of seeing its real meaning. His motives were not to help the poor whose cause he said he was advocating but he was acting from only selfish motives.
  • Jesus took Mary’s gift and then “value added” to it. Not only did the gift have immediate meaning, He said, it was actually an anointing of His body for His burial.  It meant even more than she thought it did.
  • Since this occurred just six days before the Passover, it is entirely possible, in fact likely from what Jesus said, that He never washed that perfume off before He died. Though He washed the feet of His disciples at the last supper, no one washed His.
  • When Jesus went to the cross, He probably hung there naked. We in our paintings and statues portray Him with a loincloth for modesty, but He probably was exposed there naked before His mother and the other women, the soldiers, and those who would have mocked and despised His circumcision.  He wore only the blood from His own wounds, the dried sweat of the exertion of carrying the cross, the encrusted spittle of the soldiers, and the perfume of Mary—the symbol of her love and appreciation– who had anointed Him.
  • Just as we would long to be clothed with a symbol of love, Jesus has fulfilled that longing for us: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”  Galatians 3:27.  He has become our covering and shield, not only living within us but enclosing, clothing, protecting and covering us daily.