Jonah 01 – Contrasts in Caring

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

A (re)introduction to the Minor Prophets

The twelve books at the end of the Old Testament are called The Book of the Twelve, or the Minor Prophets. They are shorter in length than the preceding prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and hence are called “minor” for that reason. I like reading them during Advent (I read Hosea last year and Malachi the year before that) because Advent is a time when we anticipate the return of Jesus, both as a wondrous baby and glorious king. Both events were alluded to by these prophets, and the greater truths evident in the layered history surrounding both Old Testament events and contemporary times continue to make these writings relevant.

An Introduction to Jonah

Jonah getting swallowed by the whale is one of the first Bible stories taught in Sunday School. But there’s a whole second half of the story that I, at least, didn’t remember learning as a child. It’s unique in the Minor Prophets because it focuses upon one linear narrative in Jonah’s life. This linearity is probably one of the reasons it lends itself to Sunday School lessons (along with giant fish and storms and all that cool stuff).

Jonah was written after Israel had regained some of their power and autonomy from Damascus in the early 8th century BC. According to my NIV text notes, Israel had become complacent and vain regarding their special status with God. Prophets like Jonah, Hosea and Amos were sent to warn them out of their spoilt and jealous attitudes. God’s concern for not only Israel, but also the Gentiles, foreshadows Jesus’ arrival and mission. Again, according to my text notes, the book of Jonah “depicts the larger scope of God’s purpose for Israel: that she might rediscover the truth of Xyr concern for the whole creation and that she might better understand her own role in carrying out that concern.” Let me just drive that fact home for a minute: Throughout the Old Testament and the New, God calls first Israel then the followers of Jesus to be priests to the whole world. Their status is special, but not special to the exclusion of everyone else. Instead, that special status is meant as a responsibility to the entire world, a responsibility to be God’s agents on Earth – spreading love and justice and peace to all of Earth’s inhabitants.

Contrasts in Caring

Chapter One of Jonah finds him receiving his charge from God to go and prophesy at Nineveh, a city of Gentiles and enemy of Israel. Jonah flees from this duty; angry, supposedly (as we find out later in the text), that God would send him to warn such a people. He obtains passage on a ship, which is hit by an outrageous storm that is only calmed after Jonah gets thrown overboard by the crew. God takes pity upon Jonah and sends a “great fish” to swallow up Jonah and carry him through the sea. Every step of the way, we see others’ concern for their fellow man, a stark contrast to Jonah’s own callousness.

Take, for example, the captain. He seeks out Jonah, the only man aboard who is not fervently praying through the storm. Side note – I’m wondering if the “deep sleep” that is described in verse five isn’t some sort of depressive state brought on by guilt. Having suffered depression I know how it can cause you to be sleepy and overwhelmed even at the most inopportune times. But back to that captain: his concern is for his crew and the passengers of his ship. “Get up and call on your god!” the captain commands Jonah, “Maybe he will notice us, and we will not perish.”

The relationship between the crew and Jonah is a particularly interesting and educational one. Even after the crew finds out that Jonah is the one who has brought the storm upon the ship, and that Jonah’s god is a god of ultimate divinity, they do not immediately throw him overboard. “Instead,” v. 13 tells us, “the men did their best to row back to land.” You see, familiarity on both sides had instilled a mutual fondness. Jonah offers himself up as a solution. “Throw me into the sea,” he says. Isn’t it interesting that this is a pagan crew, praying to all manner of gods, yet Jonah wants to save them? And isn’t it interesting that they have their salvation right in front of them, yet are reluctant to take it because it means forsaking someone they have come to know personally? I think if more of us reached out to get to know those who are different from us, much as Jonah was forced to do by the proximity of Iron Age sea travel, the more mutual support we would see across all aspects of community. But I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Finally, even God shows concern for Jonah, Xyr wayward prophet, despite having every reason to be mad at him. Instead of drowning in the deep, Jonah is swallowed up by a great fish and carried along in relative (though probably very stinky and dark) safety. Jonah, someone who has forsaken God, is saved by God through no merit of his own but God’s own great love and divine plan.

God is Love

The takeaway? God is patient, God is kind. God sees past religious beliefs, cultural differences, and even personal shortcomings. God acts through the kindness of many different people, and is working through even the recalcitrant among us, like Jonah. God is calling upon us, all of us, to reach out to our neighbor, to care for our community. Because above all, God is love, and God wants to see us foster that love throughout the world. What a wonderful thought for the beginning of Advent, wouldn’t you agree?

Hosea 11 -The Love Demanded by a Baby

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them. (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)


This is one of the most tender chapters read to date in this project, and I so, so identify with it as a parent.  Recently, I got mad at Betty.  She was whining about something her sister did (which was really nothing) while they played play-doh side by side.  I had had enough, and curtly told her to knock it off or I was going to take the play-doh away.  She started crying, but also picked up her toy scissors and started playing forlornly with the play-doh.  When she looked over at me with big, teary eyes while trying to cut the play-doh like I had shown her, I felt like a complete monster for yelling.  I simply could not be angry with her, even though she had been in the wrong.  Even when she is determined to turn from me, how can I give her up? How can I turn her over?  If God loves us like I love my girls, then this chapter must be divinely inspired.

We only have a few days of Advent left.  It is a time when we are preparing for the (second) coming of Christ.  We prepare for a Christ of terrible judgement, but also an infant-child Christ, and the tender analogies presented here reminded me of that.  In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of writing about God.  In Kristin Swenson’s God of Earth, she reminds us what we do with babies: “Babies demand full attention and all of our energy. We fetch them things, smile when they do, and weep with exhaustion at their impossible demands.  We kiss their feet,” then she goes on to say, “Well played, God. To come to earth and be of earth, not as a gigantic dictator, not as a volcano, a great white whale, a celebrity princess or a hurricane — but as a baby.  Stroke of genius.”

And it is.  A baby, for all it’s helplessness, demands (and receives) adoration in a way that none of the great things listed above could.  I know this passage wasn’t written about Christ – it was written about the unruly and hard-headed children of Israel – but the similarities remain.  Not to get to sappy, but it is a beautiful circle of love:  God loves us as Xyr children, we love God the infant Christ.

We are all children of God.  I think I say that nearly every post.  But I want you to stop and think about that for a minute.  We are all children of God.  Beloved infants.  It is hard sometimes to do so, but try to remember that everyone, even the worst of us, was a helpless newborn. A chubby baby. An unsteady toddler.  A small and wondrous being, worthy of love.  At the very least this thought may help calm you down when someone in front of  you goes 10 MPH below the speed limit for 15 miles.  My hope is it helps you let go of any lingering resentments you may hold towards anyone who has hurt you in the past.

Lots of bad people are out in the world doing bad things, and this isn’t a plea to just paper over the worst so we don’t see it.  In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.  If you see everyone as a child loved, it is harder to stand by while those terrible things happen.  Would you want to see your baby in a border detention center?  Would you want to see your baby denied healthcare for a pre-existing condition? Would you want to see your baby hungry, cold, or lonely? Of course not, and that’s the way God feels about all of us.  This Advent, let’s prepare for the return of Christ – both terrible judge and lovable infant – by remembering our brothers and sisters in need.  If we love God, we need to love them, too.

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Hosea 07 – Children are STILL in Cages at the Border

2 but they do not realize
    that I remember all their evil deeds.
Their sins engulf them;
    they are always before me.

“They delight the king with their wickedness,
    the princes with their lies.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)


I missed recognizing the start of Advent and the first anniversary of this blog.  As often happens, life got in the way: we didn’t finish with poultry processing until the first week of December (several weeks longer than usual), and I had a (not so) merry-go-round of illness run through the kiddos.

I forgave myself a while ago for times I cannot post as regularly as I’d like to. What I cannot forgive myself for though is the fact that children are still in cages at our border.  I know it is not personally my fault, but my very first blog post, now a little over a year ago, was on welcoming refugees.  I made a small donation, called my representatives once, but I must admit I have done nothing significant since.  And a year of silence while so many suffer is truly unconscionable.

God has put the fate of these refugee children before me several times in recent days.   Let’s start with today’s scripture:  “Ephraim mixes with the nations,” reads v. eight, “Foreigners sap his strength,” reads v. nine.  I worry that all of vv. 8-13 could be taken as Biblical reasoning for cruelty towards immigrants.  On top of that, the pictures of the Guatemalan boy who lay dead on the floor for hours in ICE custody before being found earlier this year have been circulating in my newsfeed lately.  Finally, the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church in California, which shows baby Jesus and his parents as refugees in separate cages, went viral a few days ago.

If we celebrate Christmas but forget our Christian duty of mercy, then we are no better than those who Hosea accuses of gathering together for grain and new wine while turning away from God.  Christmas is a season for celebration, and I don’t want to take away your joy: go to your Christmas parties, exchange gifts with your family and friends, but don’t forget the reason we are celebrating, either.  Jesus was made man to save us from our sins, to bring us a message of love for all.  And what have we done with that message of late?  Our kings and princes (aka, our president and congress) are delighted with wickedness and lies.  They – and we, with them – turn a blind eye (at best) or willfully forget those less fortunate, including the families and children in detention for No. Damn. Reason.

It is also a busy time of year, but once again, I encourage you to take a little time to call your representatives and ask them to change border policies and close the detention centers down.  I ask you to consider giving to organizations like the IRC, ACLU Immigrant Rights Project, KIND, RAICES, or Save the Children, among others who are actively fighting for the children detained.  Additionally, it is important to record and report any interaction you may have with immigration officials, so the agency can be held accountable.  Attend marches and protests in your area, and simply don’t stop talking about it.  There’s a more comprehensive list of twenty ways to help refugees at the border here.  And yes, I donated (to the RAICES Texas Bond Fund) and called my representatives (Wittman, Warner, and Kaine) yesterday afternoon.  I will continue to let you know what actions I have taken – not to brag, but to hold myself accountable.  I hope you will consider doing the same.  Christmas is a time for families to be together, not separated in cages.  Please, join in the fight to help make it so.

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