Monday, 28 September 2015

Letter to Judah (Gen 38)

Dear Judah,

I find yours a fascinating story which has much to say about sex and sexual ethics. In a world where we struggle with the way in which society seems to be misusing sex and families often appear dysfunctional so much I think it is really interesting to examine.

Firstly, I want to go back a step to your suggestion that you sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him because he was your flesh and blood. It seems that you had an understanding of what was happening was wrong.

I wonder when you went away whether it was because of resources and managing scarcity or because of guilt. I am sure you must have chatted to Reuben and realised that in your trying to save Joseph’s life you actually stopped him being rescued and increased your fathers distress.

I wonder what wickedness Er was guilty of which led to his death. We don’t know but as it was mentioned straight after you getting Tamar as his wife I do wonder if it was domestic violence or adultery which he was guilty of. The sin does implicitly appear to relate to his treatment of Tamar in some way.

You seem to understand the duties you had towards Tamar or was it you were concerned about the continuation of your bloodline?

Did you know the feelings that Onan had towards getting Tamar pregnant? He seems very concerned with the idea of any biological son of his being acknowledged as such. This passage has been used to condemn masturbation in my own culture at points. However, it is clear reading it that it is not the wasting of the seed which is the problem but rather his treatment of Tamar who in your culture he had a responsibility towards.

How did you feel about telling your son he had to go and sleep with this woman he may not have wanted to sleep with? It seems that you had a lax attitude towards sex and the use of women, yet also sharp moral codes. Yet you also have a fear of what you don’t understand. This latter is shown by your reluctance to let Tamar sleep with Shelah because you were scared of the death of another child.

You were happy to go and sleep with a prostitute, that is something I find interesting and a sign of double standards – something I think applies to a lot of people who use sex workers today. You went and slept with this woman yet you were willing to burn Tamar when you thought she had had promiscuous sex.

How did you feel when you discovered that it was you she had slept with? Your reputation was clearly important to you and you did not want to be laughed at by others or shamed her apparent actions.

That encounter when she identified you as the father of her children, because you had not given her Shelah obviously had a great impact on you because you knew why in her desperation she had acted in this way. It is like you have your eyes opened to some of the effects of patriarchy and what you had been doing to her through your abuse of power.

Did you get to spend much time with the twins before you passed away? I ask because you were obviously in older years when they were born.

I wonder what your relationship was afterwards with Tamar. Did you treat her, and indeed the other women around you with more respect?

It is interesting yours is a story I had caught in passing before but not really taken on board. Yet, it is one of the ones which has caught my attention most so far through this project. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

Letter to Reuben (Gen 37)

Dear Reuben,

You were the eldest of Jacob’s sons and Joseph was one of the youngest. I am guessing for a long while you would have been one of Jacob’s favourites and so understood something of the difficulty Joseph had in terms of being a son who was loved more than others.

Was there a relationship between the love of a son and who the mother was? It seems that this is the case with Joseph, I am wondering if the children of Leah, such as yourself, were also favoured more than those born to the concubine.

Whilst this is a story of sibling rivalry which may seem difficult for us to apply to today’s society, I think that you would have had a lot in common with many people today. We have a number of children in our society who are born to the same mother from different fathers, or conversely fathers who have a number of children from different mothers. Our society does not have polygamy but it does have serial monogamy and unfaithfulness within it.

I am interested that you appear to be the one who acts as a protector trying to ensure that Joseph can be rescued at a later point.

How did you feel about the dreamer? He was arrogant but I feel that he struggled to know how to communicate effectively. I am not sure how old he was in these dreams but I am guessing he could not have been that old.

I relate to the not knowing how to communicate appropriately sometimes. Having moved into a new home in a strange and somewhat complex context I am finding myself having to negotiate a new set of norms and explain myself and my hopes for the next two years to people who don’t know me. I am struggling with this and making mistakes in the process. I suspect that Joseph was also struggling to know how to communicate and making mistakes which pissed people off in the process.

Your father was clearly distraught about Joseph’s loss. How did you cope with that. Did you carry a lot of the guilt as the eldest?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Challenges the We Are Family The Changing Face of Family Ministry Report lays down for Local Preachers

A new report We Are Family: The Changing Face of Family Ministry by Gail Adcock, Karen Garry and Polly Goodwin has been recently published. It was a report commissioned by the Methodist Church and Consultative Group on Ministry Amongst Children. It is an interesting report which is strongly rooted on exploring what is happening on the ground ecumenically, and within Methodist Churches more specifically.

There are a range of directions I could take writing about this report and initially I was going to review it in detail. However, the more I read the clearer it became that this report has something really important to say to those of us who are worship leaders and local preachers and I want to flag this up, encouraging others to read and think about the challenges it lays down. A visually attractive, easy to read summary of the report is available as well as the more in depth report.

The first thing is it underlines something we already know that family types in the UK are changing. The report makes the point that we need to take this on practically as well as intellectually. The one question which respondents gave 100% affirmation the one which related to having single parents amongst those they were working with. That means every single families worker spoken to has single parents amongst those they are working with.

A sizeable number also had same sex couples within those within the contexts they were practitioners in. Although there was not the same level of certainty on this question.

Cohabiting couples are also going to be increasingly part of the two parent heterosexual couples being worked with, as the report highlighted.

A number of children were also adopted or in care.

Another aspect which was drawn out is something which is not new but needs to be recognised, many people come to church with grandparents or others who are not their parents.

The families workers spoken to were primarily working with families who had children aged under 11. This crossed over with the fact many were involved in Messy Church initiatives which as recent Church Army research has shown is likely to be lay-lay led, i.e. led by lay people who have no formal training or authorisation of role beyond being given responsibility locally for this work.

So what has all this got to do with local preachers and worship leaders?

Well I want to argue quite a lot.

1.    If you are asked to lead a children’s, all age or family service what definition of family do you have in mind?

“What do we mean by family?” is something the report indicated draws a wide range of responses from both individuals and the churches they are working in. Being asked to do a family service in the modern context needs reflection upon what do we mean by family and who is likely to be there. The answers need to be wider than those we might feel used to working with.

2.    What terms do you use within worship and particularly to children with regards to the adults who are with them?

We have now moved on to using parents or carers as terms, being sensitive to looked after children. Yet, if we know the congregations we are working with we use the more specific terms. I want to ask how often we include the grandparents who may often bring them?

3.    What impact might these findings have on our leading of Mothering Sunday or Father’s Day services?

There might be differences between what has traditionally been done and what is actually contextually appropriate. The worship leader or preacher should be able to reflect on this and work out how to incorporate tradition in a more appropriate way. This may involve looking at different cultural contexts and understandings of family as well as family types.

4.    What passages do we choose to use and how do we use them to talk about family?

Regular readers will know I get very up tight with the fact that we do not include the story of Hagar in the lectionary. Hers is the story of a single mother which I believe strongly we can use much more in white majority churches to talk into a range of situations linked to single parents.

5.    What is our understanding of intergenerational church & how does this impact our service planning, content of our preaching?

Many of our congregations may be predominantly older but they may contain a handful of young people too. Do we manage to embrace all or do we set them up against each other in terms of feeling that we cannot integrate material for all within one service? Similarly do we compartmentalise and so the first 15 mins is child friendly excluding the over 10’s and the rest is aimed at the over 70’s excluding the rest of the congregation? Or do we work so hard at incorporating new material from Singing the Faith which the 30-50 age group will probably be more familiar with that we end up excluding practically everybody? I exaggerate….but only slightly.

6.    How well do we know the contexts we are going to preach in?

The first part of this is a big problem for many preachers and goes beyond thinking about family ministry. Particularly if we have not been in the circuit long what do we know about the contexts we are going into and are we able to adapt what we are doing at short notice if we find out there are important things about the context we are not aware of already? How do we get the information which helps us to be contextually aware? I think this is where local preachers meetings can have a helpful role in where people can talk about the context of different churches to ensure people are aware.


7.    Do we ever talk to those engaged in families work to find how we might be able to assist them beyond the Sunday Service?

I ask this because we tend to think that as worship leaders and preachers we are being trained to fill slots on the Sunday plan. What about if we could be a resource to help families workers who are leading a range of other activities. Perhaps by working with them on short, bite size, culturally appropriate worship for the contexts they are working in.

Letter to Basemath (Gen 36)

Dear Basemath,

You interest me a lot. You were one of Ishmael’s daughters. Due to the genealogy of Esau we know is involved timewise and so I am not sure if that means you were from the tribe of Ishmael rather than an actual daughter of Ishmael. I suspect the former, although he could have impregnated your mother in his old age.

I have a soft spot for Ishmael and his mother Hagar. I guess knowing your own family story may have helped you have a great deal of sympathy for Esau and the way he’d been treated.

What was your relationship with God. I ask because I suspect it was an interesting one, knowing that Hagar, Ishmael’s mother had encountered God face to face when she initially fled Sarah, but that it was not the God of her own country. I suspect that you were very culturally mixed and that there was a lot of fusion going on in the community you lived in especially with the different backgrounds of the wives.

In many ways I suspect if we knew more about your day to day living it might help us understand a lot about multi-faith relations. Although I guess we would still struggle somewhat because just as you lived in a polygamous society and we live in one where monogamy is the norm so your society was probably much more polytheistic than ours where people of belief have been much more monotheistic. However, that is an interesting one because as secularisation occurs and spirituality rises we seem to be going back to that approach.

In many ways I find that mix and match culture much more comfortable and appealing myself. Yet, it raises a problem for me because much as I want to be a universalist it raises huge questions for me about why one of Jacob’s distant descendants Jesus then had to live and die if all roads can lead to heaven and we mix and match between beliefs.

What was your son Reuel like? Did you have daughters too? Their names aren’t mentioned. How old was he when you moved?

You seem to have a much clearer idea of when land was sustainable and when it wasn’t and moved accordingly. I find that really interesting because I live in a world where we are becoming more aware of sustainability issues and the issues that is causing. I think we need to examine much more what we need to use and how to deal with it when resources run out.

One of the problems for us is we live under a system called capitalism where consumption is the key aim in order to gain profit.

You had four grandchildren. Did you live long enough to see them? I wonder what the average age expectancy was in your time.
We have issues because we live in a culture where we believe in promoting living as long as you can even if there is not a good quality of life. I think we have lost a balance and now artificially keep people alive too long rather than embracing the natural process of aging and death. That is not to say I agree with the withdrawal of all medical treatment. I just think that we have a lot of people being encouraged to live longer than they may want to. I am in many ways glad my mother died at what is considered a young age these days but at what I think is a more natural age. That is controversial to say I know but it I see posters in the doctors promoting the idea you should seek as high a life expectancy as you can get and I think but I do not want to live past the point at which I can feel my life has quality. That is not to say I will be intentionally unhealthy or that I do not greave when people die way too early but I do think we need, as a society, to allow nature to take course more. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Letter to Rachel's Midwife (Gen 35)

Dear Midwife,

We don’t know your name but we do know your occupation. You are another of the supporting cast members who would have witnessed so much on those journeys and have been intimately involved with the family, being their assisting them at the most precious of moments. I am guessing you would also have had status amongst the servants and wider community travelling with them.

When you all had to get rid of your foreign God’s was there a bit of an uproar? Did you personally have any? What was the significance of your earrings? Were these worn by both women and men or just by one group? I am guessing that there was some kind of ritual significance which is why they needed removing.

What was it like when you passed through the towns which the terror of God had fallen on? Were they visibly scared of you all and did this manifest itself as silent hostility or were people friendly?

I guess you had to work a lot of the time but it must have been difficult because death as well as life would have been part of your life.

I imagine Rachel and had seen her grow up. She was the best link with the past I think. Did you know Deborah well too? Did her death impact you personally too?

I want to think about it from your point of view. What was it like when Jacob changed his name to Israel. Did it take time to get used to it and how did he react when people got it wrong. Were they quietly reminded or chided for not getting it right? Did more people start using time like master?

One of the reasons I am interested is because I know a number of trans people. They change their names to but also their pronouns. People tend to find the change of name reasonably easy but the way they react to mistakes differs because it is so bound up with their identity.

Jacob’s change of name was different but it was still bound up with who he was and his relationship with God and so it is an identity thing.

Had you accompanied Rachel for long and when did you realise something awful was happening and that the mother was not going to make it? Did you have to make the difficult choice of concentrating on saving the baby or the mother? If so I am interested would you have made the same effort to save the child if it had been a girl rather than a boy? I just ask because I know in some cultures boys are valued much more than the girls and I wonder how much cultural aspects influenced your professional choices.

I can’t imagine Jacob’s distress? Did he blame you or did he understand what had happened? How did you break the news to him or did somebody else do it whilst you were looking after the baby?

Who then took responsibility for bringing the child up? Did Leah do it or did the responsibility pass to one of the concubines.

I struggle with the whole concubine thing. It seems as if these women were victims of abuse who were used as sex objects in many ways. Did Reuben rape Billhah or was it consensual? I suspect you may have known more than many because of the time you spent in close proximity to these women. How did they feel about their children as they gave birth? Was there any resentment of the circumstances in which they had been conceived?

I ask these questions because I suspect you would be able to answer them. Yet, your account of events is not recorded. I wish it were I expect it would be fascinating.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Letter to Dinah (Gen 34)

*Trigger warning - this post contains details some may find disturbing*
Dear Dinah,

You were a victim of rape, not the first in Genesis but the first where your violation is explicitly named as such rather than justified as the giving of a slave or servant to a man to act as a baby machine for him.

The language in the early part of the passage sums up the messed up way in which abusers talk on occasion. He rapes you and then says he loves you and talks tenderly to you.

This is classic abusive behaviour and has a contemporary ring to it.

You obviously felt the shame of everybody knowing what had happened and discussing it. It must have been awful for you, particularly in a culture where honour was everything.

With regard to your father’s view of the proposal given it seems that religious purity was more important than what had happened to you. I get that feeling through the circumcision.

The actions of your brothers is on one hand understandable but on the other highlights how these things spiral when revenge is taken.

The women and children who were taken were most probably abused too. This is awful too.

It seems that in different ways both your brothers and Shechem were expressing their masculinity and women suffered as a result.

I think this is a very contemporary problem which is the root of much oppression and pain in modern contemporary society too.

People talk about biblical values but the more I read of the bible it seemed that what was going on in the early chapters of Genesis is just as f*****d up as today and many of the same problems exist. This is one of the reasons why I think it is so important that we rediscover the bible and what it really says because we can use it to show how society continues to make the unacceptable mistakes of the past.

This chapter can be used to show that survivors are in the bible too & highlight the way in which abusers can use manipulative behaviour and that the response of revenge can cause more problems and suffering for women as a result.

Monday, 14 September 2015

(Another) Letter to Jacob (Gen 32 &33)

Dear Jacob,

I am writing again to you because I am interested in your wrestling with God and with your ongoing relationship with your brother who you have cheated out of your birthright.

As I write this I have in mind the description of you given by Peterson Toscano who has done work on gender variant characters in the bible and a performance he gives looking at yourself and Joseph given as in the person of Esau. That means I have a clear picture of you in my mind as a slightly effeminate but clearly virile man who has a very manly brother who would not necessarily been out of place in the American programmes such as Bonanza.

As I read through the account of you preparing to meet Esau again and your wrestling with God it strikes me you were scared and realised that if you stood a chance it had to be via strategy rather than strength. Yet your wrestling with God clearly shows that you did have strength too and were not as effeminate as descriptions of your upbringing might suggest.

Reading this and seeing the description of angels again I am getting even more convinced that angels are people.

Did you send some of the gifts initially just to buy safe passage or was it because you felt some guilt of the way you had cheated him out of safe passage. As I read it I cannot help but think of the way that people are condemned for paying traffickers for safe passage when they are desperate to get to freedom. In that situation if that is your only way to safety would you not take it? Whilst I do not support traffickers in any way I do not find what our government are doing in judging whether to allow migrants (who they do not regard as refugees) in on the basis partly of their income. I read your story and you are clearly not a refugee, but you are a migrant, one of many in this book of the Hebrew bible.

Did you worry that some big mistake in your strategy had occurred when you heard Esau was coming along with what was effectively an army? It made me think what strategies are the families who are currently seeking refuge in Europe taken when faced with military force against them?

The second set of gifts you send ahead of you to try and ensure peace were obviously not initially planned. I think it is interesting that via these gifts you are effectively put in the position of giving Esau something of what you stole from him back.

When you send your wives and female servants ahead of you it is interesting because it appears that at that stage you are not differentiating between any of the mothers of your children.

I wonder what it must have been like for you after you had sent everything on ahead of you. When you wrestled with God were you using the skills you had gained growing up with Esau as kids? I suspect you may have learnt how to wrestle reasonably for your own survival.

I find it interesting that God was trying to overpower you and in the end it was your hip which went, yet you still carried on and the man had to ask you to let him go.

How did you feel you when God told you your name would change? You were obviously scared having come face to face with God. I find that interesting that whilst it was you at the end of the fight who had the winning position you say God spared you. Was it the recognition that anything could have happened to you, yet you survived?

The limp is interesting because you are left disabled and in your society disability seems to be really negatively viewed. Yet, your disability and imperfection came to be celebrated. Is this the sign that disability can sometimes be part of a blessing from God? If so that confuddles my head somewhat on one level because we view disability so negatively, as your society did in many ways.

You must have been exhausted when you saw Esau coming. I find it interesting the way you ordered your children and their mothers. It seems there was a clear order of dispensability as far as you were concerned and it was to do with the mother of the child rather than their age.

You must have been surprised by Esau’s reaction. It seemed that Esau wanted to be positive and protect you but you did not want to accept anything from Esau as you did not trust him.

I am not sure how I would have reacted in your situation. I would probably have been wary too.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Letter to Laban (Gen 32)

Dear Laban,

We have a soap called Emmerdale it is about farming families and has for many years catalogued the disputes between them. Your story would not seem entirely out of place there, even if it would need updating a bit.

I can imagine you and the boys discussing round the dinner table or somewhere what was going on and how you were doing compared to Jacob. They were obviously worried about their inheritance. Then I can imagine the brothers moaning to their friends as well as each other in whatever their equivalent of the Woolpack was. It’s not surprising it got back to you.

Murder does not seem uncommon in your society and so were you scared for your life and for that of your family too? You also seem to have been getting a bit homesick wanting to go home aswell.

You changed Jacob’s wages ten times and were reluctant to let him go. Was that because you wanted him to give you wealth or was it you wanted your daughters to remain near you so that you could see your grandchildren grow and so on?

I do feel for you because whilst Jacob did have a dream for God explaining something of the genetics involved I think he was astute to know what he was doing when he divided the flock and you and your sons may have suffered as a result of his breeding programme.

I find it fascinating that your daughters say they had been sold by you and were regarded as foreigners. It seems they were happy enough to be married off by you at the time, but then their feminist sentiments broke out when they realised how it impacted their relationship with you and inheritance. It’s almost like they figured the dowry system was a good thing when they thought they would benefit them in the end but when they realised you had spent the dowry, possibly out of necessity, they realised what an oppressive system it was.

It also seems that as the girls came to some kind of reconciliation with each other they realised they had been forced into this marriage whether they had wanted it or not and resented you for that.

I wonder what you thought when you realised Jacob and the household gods had gone. Were the gods, which I am guessing were made from gold or some such your investment system?

Did you have a violent temper, was that why you were originally not told Jacob had fled or was it that nobody had realised before then? I suspect the latter, but surely with such a large family somebody must have known earlier. Maybe it was they had sympathy with this family and wanted to give them a head start on you but bearing in mind the views of your sons I doubt it.

It seems that you had gone with a fight in mind but then you had that dream warning you. Were you scared of God? Had you had dreams before or was this something new which freaked you out and meant you did as you were told?

It seems in phrasing everything as a carefully worded question you found a good strategy. Yet, you were able to talk about your feelings. It sounds as if you loved your grandchildren and felt something for your daughters. They seem like they had both been a handful in their own ways for you over the years.

When you searched through and Rachel said she was on her period did you believe her or did you at that point know exactly what was going on and decide to save her life and not put Jacob and yourself in an impossible position. I suspect it was the latter, she must have lied to you 101 times in the past and you probably had a good idea when she was telling the truth and when she wasn’t. You must also have had a fair idea that she was possibly the only person who had the front to steal this. If she had been in a soap I am sure she would have been the beautiful and successful bitch character that people loved to hate.

Did you take it when Jacob got angry with you because you knew he was innocent in the theft or because you were scared of what God had said in the dream. It must have been some show down it seems that years of resentment had been building up and I am sure from what we know of his and Rachel’s relationship that he could verbally joust well.

You are obviously a caring man and understood the dangers your daughters faced if you were not there to protect them, especially with the temper Jacob appears to have.

It is good as part of the covenant you got protection for them both physically and as wives, ensuring that no other wives would be taken who might mean they ended up in worse positions emotionally and financially.

I like that you were able to bless your grandchildren and daughters before they went. That must have been an extremely moving time. It is clear that family was important to you and this parting was going to be difficult for you. It would have made a tear jerking episode if you had been in a soap and I felt quite moved reading this.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Letter to Rachel (Gen 30)

Dear Rachel,

You and Jacob seem to have been a genuine love story, he was willing to work for you initially and again when he was given your sister rather than you.

I wonder what the relationship between Leah and yourself was. One gets the feeling that you had been the bright pretty one growing up and because of her poor eyesight Leah was viewed as the more unfortunate of the two of you.

It seems the tables turned when Leah started having children and you were unable to. I am not sure you were used to being jealous of her but when it occurred it was an intense and violent emotion.

Whilst your words to Jacob on the matter seem to be a bit of a drama queen moment I understand that in your culture, even as in ours today childlessness can be extremely painful.

Was your jealousy caused by a mixture of pain and fear and partly by Leah’s insensitivity?

I know in the culture I live there is a focus on the language of “family” which excludes the childless and indeed through some policies disadvantages those without.

One thing which I have found difficult with the language used in the “what is marriage?” debates going on at the moment is the focus which is once again being given to procreation. I worry that the debate excludes and ignore heterosexual couples who can’t have children and use language which must be extremely difficult for them.

In terms of the fear were you worried about what would happen when Jacob died? There was no welfare system and Leah had a security you didn’t.

When you and Jacob argue it seems to have been a really passionate argument.

In terms of a solution you, like Sarah, use a concubine as a surrogate mother. Was this a common situation in your culture? It seems that because of how Leah did the same that it would have been common.

 On one hand, living in a very different culture, I find it repugnant you could make your servant have sex to bear you a child. Looking through modern eyes I would say that you forced your servant to be raped in order to provide you with a child.

On the other hand in a society where the social arrangements were different I can see that it may have made sense and indeed the servants who were chosen to fulfil this role could have benefitted through it. They would have nursed their children because you didn’t have artificial milk and would probably have had a key role in bringing them up.

The rivalry between yourself and Leah seems fierce and illustrates to me why polygamy is an unhealthy approach and why it is good we now generally have monogamy. The episode with Reuben and the mandrakes seems to sum it up. You were clearly the dominant partner and you used that for your own benefit.

The attitudes you have to sex confuse me. I can’t get my head around of saying your sister could have your husband for sex one night if she gave you some food.

It seems quite comical when Leah goes and tells Jacob he is having sex with her that night. God seems to have had a compassion for her which suggests your treatment of her was not great.

The fact you say God has taken your disgrace when you get pregnant shows that you had a difficult time being childless in your culture. 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Letter to Jacob (Gen 28 & 29)

Dear Jacob,

It seems if your brother was the bad boy of the family you were the good one, but the taking of your brothers birthright shows that you were not perfect. I have to ask if that one was your idea or your mums? What was it like growing up with a twin your mum obviously struggled with?

I find it interesting that you come across as a thinker and somebody who was more comfortable at home. If you were alive now I think there is a good chance you would have been an academic more at home in a book filled office or academic seminar than anywhere else.

You obviously understood your parents views on racial purity in a way your brother hadn’t until it was too late. Did you agree with them or did you want to please them?

Had you had dreams before where God spoke to you or was it a new one?

The tithing system of giving a tenth seems to start being referred to for the first time in this book, (although we know that this was not the first book actually written). Why did you decide to do this? Was it that you were continuing a practice that already existed?

It seems it was really intense for you when you met Rachel? Was this because you had heard so much about your extended family but never met them before or was it because you knew that this girl or one of her sisters would be your wife and you felt nervous about this?

It seems that you felt very comfortable with this family and were happy to be part of them. Was it a coming home experience that some 2nd and 3rd generation people who have grown up in the UK now talk about when they go back to a place of heritage?

It seems that you wanted to stay there to build up relationship with Rachel, and thought you knew what the deal was. However, there seems to have been confusion around the customs of the culture you had entered. I think that there may have been a genuine confusion rather than you getting palmed off with the sister who would have been more difficult to marry.

I feel really conflicted about your treatment of Leah. It was not right, but I understand that it was to do with having wanted to marry for love and not being able to do so and feeling you had been tricked. Did your relationship improve once your children were born?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Letter to Esau (Gen 27)

Dear Esau,

I wonder what it was like for you? You knew you had swapped your birthright for food and your mother doted on your brother.

It seems that when you married Judith that was the last straw for your parents. What was it that you did which annoyed them so much? Was it that Judith bought them up in a Hittite way rather than following your ways?

Did you get on with Jacob or was he always plotting with your mum against you? I have these questions.

I can’t imagine what it was like when you and Isaac discovered that you had both been tricked by Rebekah and Jacob.

I can see that you were very angry and wanted revenge.

You may have noted this is a really short note not like my other letters. The reason for this is I can’t really connect with you. I don’t know if that is to do with how your story is written or what, but I can’t.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Letter to Abimelek (Gen 26)

Dear Abimelek,

I am interested in your rule. Did you have to deal with a large influx of migrants during the famine? Was it Isaac’s wealth that meant you allowed him to stay or were you giving refuge to a large number of people? I ask that but then wonder if he was wealthy because of when our scriptures tell us he became rich and wealthy.

I ask because in our time it appears that wealth is what gets many people immigration status.

Did you have any doubts about the relationship between Isaac and Rebekah before you saw them? Was it normal for people to kill people to take their wives?

You appear to fear the wealth that he gained whilst living in your country. Was it you feared he would attack you, or gain a party which wanted to dispose you around him?

I find it interesting that you note the power he has is growing due to God.

As I read your story and others in Genesis I am gaining a little more of an appreciation of your culture and of the risks which you were running the whole time. It is very different to our culture but still has stuff to speak into it about our own attitudes towards migration and fear of the migrant gaining too much power.

Letter to Rebekah (Gen 25)

Dear Rebekah,

I find you an interesting character. You seem to have known exactly what the deal was in Gen 24 and seem to have been happy when you met Isaac.

What was it like meeting Abraham for the first time?

I am confused slightly by the English wording of this chapter, it says he married again and had children but then concubine is later used to describe the mothers of all children apart from Isaac.

We know polygamy was the practice of the time and this is something that I find maddening .In a lot of the current debates around marriage the language used has been about promoting a biblical view of marriage and verses from Genesis have been used along with spurious arguments allowing marriage to be recognised on an equal basis for same sex couples may lead to polygamy. The truth is that same sex couples want monogamous committed loving marriage to be recognised and what was in the bible was not that.

What I worry about this chapter is the way it can be used to promote that it is ok for a man to have a wife who gives her a child who has the legitimate inheritance rights but also ok to have women who give birth to his children too, but are not recognised. This I know was the model used in the British Royal family in the 17th and 18th century for example. Today we have moved on and see this is not a healthy state of affairs and that monogamy is the ideal. Thus, when we look at Genesis I argue it should be used carefully and that we can easily see the use by fundamentalists is very selective.

I find it really interesting that Ishmael buries Abraham with Isaac. I take it from that contact had been re-established at some point between Ishmael and his father. I would love to know more about that relationship because it has so much to teach us about modern relationships between absent fathers and their children.

Was it when Sarah died that Abraham was able to re-establish contact or had it been there in some form all along. It is clear that whilst Isaac was the key inheritor that Abraham did give his other sons some of his wealth. Yet, also gave instructions to try and ensure that Isaac was able to prosper without the others around to give him a hard time.

It seems that Isaac and Ishmael got on or atleast were able to work together whilst grieving for their father. How did you feel about it all.

It seems as if the sons of Ishmael were well aware their father was the eldest and really should have been the prime inheritors rather than Isaac, if all had been different. That probably explains their hostility. I also wonder though if it were to do with poverty.

Sorry, this letter is to you, yet I am talking about the others and people you probably thought relatively little of.

When it describes you as barren what was the acceptable length of time in your society between getting married and having children? At what time did you find yourself being described as barren? I find this fascinating, the number of women in the bible who get described as being infertile but than can actually give birth. It makes me wonder if there was something in the genetics of the line of Abraham which caused problems. I have referred before to the inter-breeding worries I have and I wonder if this was one way they were manifested, also as if nature were trying to deal with the problem. That then takes me on to wondering if you did get pregnant but miscarried, something which is not discussed in the bible.

What was it like with the twins? You must have been so glad when you realised you were pregnant and going to go full term? Yet t doesn’t sound like your pregnancy was easy and if you went to ask the Lord what was going on it sounds as if you were scared about what you were feeling inside you.

I find it interesting the description of Jacob and Esau. Was it because of what the Lord had said to you that you favoured your younger son or was it just he was easier and Isaac loved the elder more? It sounds as if Esau sums up what the ideal of a masculine man was whilst Jacob appears somewhat effeminate. I have heard Peterson Toscano talk about this before in a way which was really interesting. He makes the point that Jacob would be described as having the characteristics with gay men today, whilst Esau represents the ideal which the ex-gay movement for example put forward about masculinity.

Had you told Jacob about what the Lord had said about him going to be the more powerful of the two and inheriting? Did you advise him to look out for opportunities to cheat his brother? If so why did you dislike Esau so much you would do that? Was it that he took Isaac’s time and attention away from you? Or were you always having to defend Jacob to Isaac when he compared him to Esau. Or I wonder was it that Esau had a negative view towards women, including yourself?

Friday, 4 September 2015

A Letter to Abraham's Chief Servant (Gen 24)

Dear Servant,


We don’t even know your name, just that you were Abraham’s chief servant. What were you called? You are known by your job and position in the household rather than as a person. How did that make you feel?

It is clear you were trusted and close to Abraham but at the end of the day you were an employee – however powerful you were. What was your nationality? Where did you come from? Had you started off as one of the pay offs Abraham received one of those times he tried to pass Sarah off as his sister?

What was this business of putting your hand under a person’s thigh to make an oath. It seems very, very odd or was it to show that if you did not do as you had promised you might be emasculated as a result?

You seem a practical type of person who thought ahead about potential problems. I guess in your job you had to be a strategist to ensure survival.

You obviously had a knowledge of God and from this I wonder if you had been a child of one of Abraham’s original servants or if you had been a youngster when they first left the land they came from. Yet later on in verse 12 you pray God of my master Abraham which suggests it may not have been your original God.

Abraham appears to want to maintain some kind of racial purity whilst also not wanting Isaac to go back to where he had come from. It seems as if when Abraham said an angel would be sent before you that it was a natural statement and one which was not designed to freak you.

It reinforces my own view that angels do exist but often they may take the form of people, ordinary people rather than some kind of other form. It’s what the Genesis texts seem to suggest.

Did you take the standard dowry or a little bit more incase? I ask because I know that you would have had to weigh this all up carefully to ensure you got it just right.

I guess this was an important job getting the right girl and I guess your prayers were very real. English history tells what can happen to those who didn’t get choosing a wife right.

How did you know Rebekah was a virgin, was it her dress, hair or what? I am guessing that there is some cultural sign which was so common it didn’t need making explicit in this text.

What was it like going up to this beautiful woman? Was beauty something much treasured in your society? Today we put too much focus on it as a society, failing often to recognise what is beneath and putting lots of pressure on women to conform. The church tends to take an implicit line of wanting women to look after themselves but not be too alluring so as not to act as a temptation.

I guess that when Rebekah said she would give your camels some water too she knew why you had them there, and that it would not have been unusual.

She must have known you were watching her. How did that make you feel? Did you have any feelings of arousal yourself whilst you were watching her or were you able to keep it strictly professional? I ask because it must have been a bit of a strange situation studying this woman.

It seems during all this she would have been presenting herself in some way going through a series of rituals that she may have been taught ready for such an eventuality.

I guess relief went through you when you were allowed to stay the night and it seemed that this was going to be ok.

There seems to be a point at verse 28 in our bible where the tension breaks after you had given her the nose ring and bracelets. Were these the indications that you had been approached. It seems that there may have been quite a lot of ritual tied up with what you were doing.

I guess that things took another delicate turn when Laban came out. I wonder why their father was not the first to talk to you, was it that the brother was home and the father wasn’t or was it that the brother had been given the job of setting up the place for you to stay.

Why didn’t you eat first was it that you felt a bit sick with nerves or you wanted to get the business out of the way before pleasure?

Did Laban remember Abraham or had he just heard stories about him? It sounds as if you were well prepared with introducing yourself and your role and were quite articulate.

I am interested that Rebekah was the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. Does that mean her mum had been Lot’s sister or had there been more than one brother? It raises and interesting question for me, which I have alluded to before, about the risks of genetic disability amongst the patriarchs. This inter-breeding could not have been good, but then I have recently started reading a book on Queen Victoria and have realised how closely related most of the royal family have been for many years. What was going on there seems no different to this and Nahor seems to have been like the small part of Germany that was responsible for so much of the European royalty in the 19th century.

When did Bethuel turn up? It seems there you are talking to Laban and suddenly you are talking to the father too.

They seem to have a resigned fatalism about losing their daughter feeling that they had to go along with whatever if it was ordained by God.

It’s clear that they were all going to miss Rebekah, why wouldn’t you stay with them that extra few days. Was it you were worried about them all changing their minds or was it that you wanted to get home because you weren’t sure how much longer Abraham had and you wanted to get back whilst he was still alive. Perhaps it was all to do with missing your own family? I don’t know, but it was clear you didn’t want to stay there longer than you had to.

I find it interesting that after it is all sorted then Rebekah is asked for her opinion. Were you surprised when they asked her if she was willing to go with you.

Was the nurse sent as a chaperone or was this older woman expected to go along too. For me all I can think about when I hear this is Shakespeare in Love and the nurse in that film. How many maids were there? It seems that the household she was coming from was wealthy too. It’s interesting as I read this I cannot imagine it in the times and culture it was written but it all seems to make sense if I think about it in terms of what I know about the Tudors.

The last bit of this chapter when you take Rebekah to meet Isaac all seems a bit cheesy to be honest. I guess it wasn’t but it is written a bit like a soppy movie. I wonder how you felt about it all? Were you glad and probably relieved your job had been done well and Isaac seemed happier than he had since his mothers death or were you too busy worrying about the detail which I guess you were in charge of. Was there much more ritual to be organised which is again not made explicit in these verses?

As you can tell I am curious about you and your job, not just this episode. We know of the powerful but don’t know so much about the “ordinary” people of the time and that is what fascinates me, knowing more about people like you who were important to the wider story.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Letter to Ephron (Gen 23)

Dear Ephron,

 I am writing a very short note because I am struck by the exchange between Abraham and yourself over the cave which he wanted to use for Sarah’s tomb. You appear to want to give it to him but he is determined to pay.

I wonder if this was a cosmetic exchange on your part, something which would have been culturally expected or not? I suspect your willingness to give the land was genuine because you seem to respect Abraham as someone of great standing in your community. Even though he was a foreigner in a culture where people seemed to hold on tight to ethnic identity you appear to be extremely welcoming.

What was it you understood about migrants that others did not or was it the wealth and apparent power which Abraham had which you focused on?

Whatever I appreciate your generosity but I can also understand where Abraham was coming from. He wanted full legal claim to the land and that was important to him. I guess if you are building a tomb in a foreign land it is important that you can show it is your land for when your descendants may want to come back.

In a book where few people have shown me positive attributes you are a breath of fresh air Ephron. You don’t seem concerned with power or material goods. Rather you simply seem to want to do the right thing.