Leviticus 01 – God Loves a Barbeque

The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here)

The book everyone loves to hate.

Let’s spend a little time with the book everybody loves to hate, Leviticus. About the only thing “in style” about Leviticus right now is spending time refuting it. Two of the six clobber passages (passages used to denounce homosexuality) are found in Leviticus. Almost any compilation of “weirdest rules” or “strangest passages” in the Bible samples heavily from Leviticus.

There’s a pervasive need of modern readers to patronize Leviticus. We’ve all seemed to develop a sense of superiority sitting here looking at it, almost four centuries after it was written. Sometimes, that sense of superiority is factually based in the cumulative knowledge that time has brought, but other times I think it’s just a bit haughty of us.

If we take the time to research Leviticus it not only brings the past – in this case, the time of Moses, to life – but also presents us with (you guessed it) even more examples of God’s unending love for us. A book of rules – very specific rules, at that – seems a strange place to look for boundless love. But I’m happy to report I’ve found a lot of it, and I’m excited to share that with you here. Some of the more perplexing verses can be understood in context: obsessive directives about skin diseases and mold make more sense when you remember that this is a time before bleach and antibiotics. But more than anything it is a book about care: God caring for Xyr people, and those people caring for each other and God in return. It is a book of joyous communion.

God loves a barbeque.

And bless my southern little heart, what is a more joyous communion than a barbeque? If you come away from Leviticus learning one thing, let it be this: that God loves a barbeque. The phrase “aroma pleasing to the Lord,” in reference to the animal sacrifices made on the altar, is mentioned three times in this opening chapter alone. I cannot stress enough: God opened this book of rules with a cooking lesson. How to present the meat, butcher the meat, and prepare the meat is all detailed, similar to how a pit master might do. Come to think of it, another name for the first few chapter of Leviticus could be “this is how we eat together.”

I realize that whole last paragraph might come off as a little trite. But really, these opening chapters are a codified invitation to sit at the Lord’s table. And God makes it available to all: If you can bring a bull, definitely bring a bull. Can’t afford that? No worries, bring a ram, or even a bird. Can’t bring any meat? How about a grain offering? God wants us, all of us, with them. Because what is a barbeque without lots of people?

Practical concerns surrounding sacrificial butchery.

I’m also enjoying these opening chapters because, for those of you that don’t know, I am a farmer in my other life. I have herded cows, castrated pigs, and eviscerated chickens. I have carved a pig head, among other things, and make stock from chicken feet. So reading some of the practical instructions surrounding animal sacrifice is particularly amusing. Today’s winning line is verse 1:16, “He is to remove the crop with its contents and throw it to the east side of the altar, where the ashes are.”

First off, the word translated as “contents” is uncertain, according to my NIV study notes. Some translate it as “crop and feathers.” I don’t need to be a Hebrew or religious scholar to tell you that word means “anything you wouldn’t want to eat on the bird.” Having removed thousands of them myself, I can tell you that crops – the “holding stomach,” if you will, on birds, is stinky. As are their intestines and feathers. You do not want any of that burning on your holy altar – it would not be an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Imagine diarrhea and burnt hair, and that’s probably a pretty close approximation of what burning bird offal smells like.)

I also like that it is further explicitly stated that said gross stuff be thrown away on the east side of the Altar. There are detailed descriptions of how the Tabernacle should be constructed (we’ll get to them when we read Exodus), and my study Bible has a handy little drawing of how the Tabernacle was set up. Sure enough, the east side of the Altar is the farthest side from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant rested. Basically, God is like “keep that nasty stuff over there.” I’ve smelled a gut bucket full of the offal of 100-plus birds. It is not conducive to communing with the Lord.

Alright enough about bird guts, for now. But be prepared: we’re going to talk more about animal entrails in the not too distant future. My writer’s block seems to have cleared, Leviticus is thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to sharing chapter two with you all next week. Remember that you are always welcome at God’s barbeque, for God loves us all.

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Luke 04 – Writer’s Block

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” 44 And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

I love this little Jesus utterance at the end of the chapter. It sounds a bit wistful, like a divine version of “I really want to have another drink with you guys, but my Dad needs my help at the shop in the morning.” Think about it: Jesus has just been tempted by the devil and then driven out of Nazareth by an angry crowd. In Capernaum, he is able to perform miracles and save people’s lives – something I’ve never done myself but it sounds like a pretty nice high – and people actually like him for it. They liked him so much they tried to keep him from leaving. Even if he never had any intention of staying there forever, I bet that the idea of setting down roots in such receptive soil appealed to Jesus, even as just a passing fantasy.

I’m not Jesus, but I do feel compelled to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. The problem is, I seem to be suffering lately from a bit of writer’s block, my friends. I feel like I am just…waiting. That whatever this time is in my personal life, it is a period that must just be lived through, because living into it is too overwhelming. I am eager to get on with my work, but maybe it’s not quite time to do so, yet.

At thirty-four I like to think of myself as still young – very young, hopefully, with many, many productive decades ahead. I have to remind myself often that this (“this” being the blog, parenting, marriage, life…) is not a race. In yet another instance of when I felt like Alice Walker was writing just for me, she dedicates a whole poem to “young writers who itch, usually before they are ready, to say the words that will correct the world.” (I encourage you to look up the poem, entitled Reassurance, which is in both In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and Revolutionary Petunias.) Maybe I’m just not ready yet, and this is God’s way of slowing me down until I am.

Maybe right now I need to take my cue from the earlier part of this chapter. Jesus had his patience tried by the devil and by man before pushing through to Capernaum. I’m not saying roll over and take abuse, but patiently enduring less-than-desirable situations is part of the journey. Indeed, waiting can be every bit as important as doing. It is – or at least, does not have to be – wasted time. In another one of my favorite books, God of Earth, Kristin Swenson dedicates a whole chapter to the idea of waiting on God. “Waiting is different than resting,” she says, “waiting has an energy of its own. It presumes attendance and attention. It’s a kind of action, even as it is a forced inaction.” In other words, when it comes to our relationship with God, there is an action implied in waiting, an active listening, if you will. So even when it feels like God isn’t with us, like we’re waiting on God to return to us, God is there. No one likes to be told to wait, no one wants to be uncomfortable or unsure, but I feel I must grudgingly admit to myself that sometimes you’ve just got to push through, endure, and patiently wait. If it was necessary for Jesus, then it is probably necessary for me, and for you.

So for now, I’m going to pray, and endure. And would you look at that? By pushing through, I’ve managed to write 700 words. It’s not my best entry, and no where near my longest. It took a false start on a different chapter, eight different revisions, but here I am, still proclaiming the Good News even when I don’t know what to say. Know that God is with you, no matter what. I pray that your way may be made clear, as well.

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DOUBLE Book Review: In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and Untamed

A woman, unless she submits
is neither a mule
nor a queen
though like a mule she may suffer
and like a queen pace the floor.

The above is an excerpt of an Alice Walker’s poem, found again in one of the collected essays of In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. I wonder if Glennon Doyle has read it. I think she would enjoy it, as much of Untamed is spent discussing exactly how to avoid being either a mule or a queen, so to speak. It was by complete happenstance that I started reading them at the same time: Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens being the arbitrary starting point for me off my list of 36 Minority Writers on Faith and Glennon Doyle’s Untamed being gifted to me by my sister. Reading them together was a heady experience, as they uncannily complimented each other in their ability to speak directly to my own life. Perhaps this speaks to the universality of our shared experiences, which is a nice thought in and of itself. Perhaps God meant for me to read them together, which will make some people roll their eyes, but I think it is also a nice thought.

Neither of these books is “religious” per se, though both books do touch upon “religion.” But I do not see my Christianity as separate and apart from the rest of my life, something that needs only be acknowledged on Sundays and holidays. Things as varied and mundane as gardening, child-care, and drunken late-night conversation can have a real bearing on our souls. I believe God designed it that way, so I wanted to share these two books with you on a “religious” blog, since they were stepping stones on my spiritual journey. (You can read my in-depth reviews of these books, as well as my other recommendations, on my GoodReads account.)

In short, Doyle’s book galvanized me and Walker’s book uplifted me. As a woman who is searching for meaning, finding out what it means to be something beyond “wife,” and “mother” while stepping back from the business I helped build with my husband, the prologue of Untamed rattled me so much I almost didn’t read the rest of the book.  In it, Doyle recalls seeing a cheetah born in captivity who clearly still has some sort of ancestral or muscle memory of the wild. 

She gives this cheetah a voice: “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black, silent sky filled with stars…I should be grateful. I have a good enough life here. It’s crazy to long for what doesn’t even exist.”

“You are not crazy,” Doyle answers the imaginary cheetah-rambling. “You are a goddamn cheetah.”

I felt – I still feel – exactly the way she described that cheetah, and it was unnerving to have a person I’ve never met before put into words something I was having trouble defining even for myself. I used to be scared that whatever creative endeavor I’m starting might fail, afraid to see them through to the end. But now, after reading Untamed, I’m afraid not to see them through to the end.

Walker, for her part, caught all the complexities of my Southern, female soul. Forty years my senior, a different race, different occupation, different sexual orientation and religious beliefs than me — and all I could feel was our similarities. I felt so much less alone after reading In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Her writings gave me permission to love the South. For all its wounds and wrongs, it is still a place of wondrous beauty and deep inspiration. Her essay, “One Child of One’s Own” encapsulates perfectly the joy and revelation, as well as the frustration and constraints, I have experienced as an artist who is now a mother. Throughout the book Walker highlights the sisterhood of women – yes, black women to be sure, but all women, as well – reminding us that it is our duty and our benefit to listen to each other, to lift up one another. To that end, I think her essay “A Talk: 1972” (titled further on in the text “How to Speak About Practically Everything, Briefly, From the Heart”) should be required reading for all women in America.

I (re)realized something, reading these two books together: If we answer Walker’s call in earnest to lift each other up, we will achieve Doyle’s proposed goal of finding our own wild again. We will live freely, neither mules nor queens, but wild and beautiful as cheetahs. And that, I think, is the way God would want it.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo.  Thank you!