Saturday, May 20, 2017

Book Review: Sold Into Egypt

Sold Into Egypt: Journeys Into Human Being. Madeleine L'Engle. 1989/2017. Convergent Books. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: He was a spoiled brat, Joseph, the eleventh brother. Indulged, self-indulgent, selfish. He clung to his father and the women. Whined. Got his own way. If one of the wives said no, another would surely say yes. When he was crossed he wailed that he had no mother.

Premise/plot: Sold Into Egypt completes Madeleine L'Engle's Genesis trilogy. (And It Was GoodStone for A Pillow). The book is a blend of memoir and biblical fiction. Sold Into Egypt is a memoir in that Madeleine L'Engle is reflecting on her life, specifically her GRIEF over losing her husband, Hugh. She's also sharing her spiritual reflections on what it means to live, to die, to be human. Sold Into Egypt is biblical fiction in that within each chapter--or most of the chapters--L'Engle speculates on the last chapters of Genesis. She presents accounts from different points of view.

My thoughts: I've mentioned it before, but, it's always worth mentioning again: L'Engle's theology is dangerous. Her theology is not devoid of all truth. And, at times, she speaks the unadulterated truth. But most of the time, the "truth" is filtered through her all-too-human-lens of what is right and what is wrong in her own eyes, in her own reckoning. And God as revealed in the written Word, the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, the Scriptures that are not to be added to or subtracted from does not match L'Engle's God. And so when given the choice to believe God's Own Revelation of Himself and her own idea of God, she goes with her own idea of God. L'Engle claiming that the Bible was never meant to be static, and that God is always changing, that "I AM" really means "I will be what I will be." Here's the thing: we all have a choice to make. No matter who we are, how we've been raised, how seasoned or experienced we are "in the faith." When our thoughts are in conflict with the Word of God, what will we do--who will we trust?! Will we trust the Word of God even when it doesn't seem right to us? even when it conflicts with what we want to do, with what we want to believe? even when it conflicts with our comfort zone? L'Engle is an advocate of the theory the Bible only has meaning when we--the reader--read it. And that meaning changes reader to reader. The Bible means what it means to us at that moment in time. What it means to me today is not what the Bible meant to me two decades ago. And of course my Bible is going to be different from your Bible because we're two different people! I hope you can see that L'Engle is dangerous, and dangerous precisely because she's not alone in her madness.

The three books are a product of her times. All three were written in the eighties. All three were written in the midst of the Cold War. All three deal with "current news" and "current politics."

Because we have failed to listen to each other’s stories, we are becoming a fragmented human race.
It is an amazing thing that Jacob wrestled with an angel and yet seldom wrestled with himself.
There seems to be an illusion in some of Christendom today that Christians are always happy. No matter what tragedies happen, Christians are supposed to be happy if they truly have faith. It’s only an illusion and can cause enormous trouble. Jesus was not always happy. He was, indeed, the suffering servant Isaiah talks about. Happiness, blind, unquestioning happiness, is not the sign of the Christian. Even the Holy Family was not, in the superficial sense of the word, happy. Simeon warned Mary that a sword of anguish would penetrate her own heart. And, indeed, it did.
God reproves us whenever we decide that El is like us, or like our own particular group. There is only one criterion to use in deciding whether or not the image of God we are finding within us is really God’s image, or a projection of ourselves. The one thing we know about God for certain is that God is love. Where there is not love, even if there is righteousness, or justice, it is not God.
There are many things in Scripture that are not to be understood, perhaps because so many years have passed that things have been left out, or added to, or shifted around.
Our visions of God are partial and incomplete at best. But the God who shines through the Old Testament is the mighty Creator who made the brilliance of all those stars he showed Abraham, the God of the universe. There have been many times in history when people must have wondered what kind of God we Christians have—for instance, when crusaders slaughtered Orthodox Christians in Greece; when the Spanish Inquisitors burned people at the stake for tiny differences in interpretation of faith; in Salem where a woman could be hanged as a witch if an angry neighbour accused her out of spite. Perhaps God needs less of our fierce protectiveness for his cause, and more of our love to El, to each other.
But God, El, the God of Joseph and the patriarchs, seems to be almost two separate gods, the tribal god whom Bilhah found so offensive, and who still offends many people today, and the God who was the Maker of the Universe, Creator of the Stars, the All in All, the God of Love who still lights our hearts. The tribal god can be described and defined. The God of love, the God of beginnings, cannot. And we have the desire to define, to encompass, to understand with our minds, rather than our hearts, the God we proclaim.
Truth is eternal, but our knowledge is always flawed and partial.
If we are responsible for the being of things, if we are, as this new theory implies, co-creators with God, this gives the sentient, questioning human being an enormous responsibility. Rather than swelling our egos, it should awaken in us an awed sense of vocation. We human creatures are called to be the eyes and ears and nose and mouth and fingers of this planet. We are called to observe all that is around us, to contemplate it, and to make it real.
The important thing is that the universe was made by Love, and belongs to Love.
So many people do not know what death means, and that is the cause of their embarrassment. My faith affirms that it means something, and I don’t have to know what.
Who knows what the God of love has in store for us? There are many important lessons to be learned before we are ready for the unveiled glory of the Presence.
To be human is to be able to laugh, to cry, to live fully, to be aware of our lives as we are living them. We are the creatures who know that we know, unlike insects who live by unthinking instinct. That ability to think, to know, to reflect, to question, marks us as human beings. And our humanness includes an awareness that we are mortal. To be a human being is to be born, to live, to die. We have a life span.
We tell stories, listen to stories, go to plays, to be amused, to be edified, but mostly so that we can understand what it means to be a human being.
Story is the closest we human beings can come to truth.
Story was a mirror in which I could be helped to find the image of God in myself.
Normal is the reality of living with precariousness, of never knowing what is around the corner, when accident or death are going to strike. Normal is cooking dinner for friends in the midst of this precariousness, lighting the candles, laughing, being together. Normal is trusting that God will make meaning out of everything that happens.
To be a human being is to be able to listen to a story, to tell a story, and to know that story is the most perfect vehicle of truth available to the human being.
Wait! Did I imply that Scripture is not infallible? Scripture is true, and fallibility and infallibility is not what Scripture is about. According to Scripture it is perfectly all right to have slaves as long as you treat them kindly. Slaves are told to be diligent and loyal to their masters. The psalmist says that he never saw the good man go hungry or his children begging for bread. Yet we know that good men do go hungry and their children do beg for bread every day. In his letter to the people of Thessalonica Paul’s harsh words about the Jews have encouraged the ugliness of anti-Semitism: It was the Jews who killed their own prophets, the Jews who killed the Lord, Jesus, the Jews who drove us out, his messengers. Taken out of the context in which Paul was writing to the suffering Thessalonians, his words can do untold harm, and they have often done so. So what do I believe about Scripture? I believe that it is true. What is true is alive and capable of movement and growth. Scripture is full of paradox and contradiction, but it is true, and if we fallible human creatures look regularly and humbly at the great pages and people of Scripture, if we are willing to accept truth rather than rigidly infallible statements, we will be given life, and life more abundantly. And we, like Joseph, will make progress toward becoming human.
My writing teaches me. It gives me truths I didn’t know and could never have thought of by myself. Truth is given us when we are enabled to believe the contradictory and impossible.
One of the bits of dogma that used to concern me was that Jesus is exactly like us—except he’s sinless. Well, of course if he’s sinless he’s not exactly like us; he’s not like us at all. And then I arrived at a totally different definition of sin. Sin is not child abuse or rape or murder, terrible though these may be. Sin is separation from God, and Jesus was never separate from the Source. Of course if we were close to our Source, if we were not separated from God, it would be impossible for us to commit child abuse or rape or murder. But when we are separated from God, that sin makes all sins possible.
To be human is to be able to change, knowing full well that some change is good and some change is bad; some change is progressive and some is regressive, and we often cannot discern which is which. But if we lose the ability to change we stultify, we turn to stone, we die.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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