In Joseph’s shoes errrr sandals?

I wrote this as part of my other post ‘Joseph, the Unsung Hero’ /emmanuelreagan/2011/12/joseph-unsung-hero.html, but then realized that this was incongruous. To just delete it off would go against my principle that words are precious, the creativity almost of first order. I decided to make a post out of it. Besides, by making this as a separate post, this would be the 50th post of this year… a good rounded number to end 2011. 🙂 In other words, this is a post for the sake of a post. If you, for some reason have been reading till now, this might be a good place to stop. 😛

If you didn’t,  you have only yourself to blame… Well, as I was writing my post on ‘Joseph, the Unsung Hero’, I tried an thought experiment of putting myself into Joseph’s shoes. Just to see what it would mean to be the man that Joseph was. There are three points which I’ll have trouble putting myself in Joseph’s shoes, or should I say sandals…


Matt 1:18 Mary had been betrothed [that is, legally pledged to be married] to Joseph.

This sounds pretty much like an arranged marriage. Even though I come from a culture where arranged marriages do happen, it is on the decline. I would find it  tough to willingly accept an ‘arranged marriage’. Living in the world of radical individualism, having someone else make decisions especially when it comes to matters so close to my person, would be a bridge too far to say the least.

Matt 1: 20 An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…”

Honestly, I would rather find it difficult to obey an Angel in my ‘dream’ suggesting that I marry a pregnant lady. Living in a post-Freudian world, I would find such a ‘dream’ rather confusing if not spooky. I would wonder if my ‘subconscious’ was venting out some repressed feelings in my dream. I might even have been tempted to argue with the Angel that he was asking me to something that did not seem very consistent with some parts of the revealed (Old Testament) word of God.

Matt 1:25 But ‘knew’ her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Not be able to have sexual intimacy with my wife for at least a year would be a tough sell to say the least. Having had to be abstinent until marriage and when one thinks one has finally arrived, to realize that one has to wait for one more year would not be an easy pill to swallow. 

The Man Joseph had no hesitation. He, with amazing speed agrees to marry Mary as per the Angel’s command. (Matt 1:24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife…).

I think there are three problems why it is difficult for someone born in the modern age to put oneself into Joseph’s shoes/sandals…

I think  in the modern age, our culture place a lot more premium on the ‘attraction-factor’ than any other time in history, which is one of the reasons why we find ‘arranged marriages’ impossible. We can’t imagine getting married to someone we don’t feel attracted to. If we look at human nature, for centuries attraction developed after marriage. In making ‘attraction’ a prerequisite to marriage, I wonder if we are putting the cart before the horse.

The second problem with modern age is that we don’t believe that God intervenes in history to communicate to his children about His plan for their lives. When it comes to matters of marriage we listen more to our hearts promptings than to God’s guidance. This reductionistic decision making process is akin to cutting off ones limb to fit the small cot.

The third problem is that we have made sexual intimacy a big part of marital life. I have read psychologists say that most problems in marriages can be traced by to sexual problems between the husband and wife. I don’t know how this works… but I think if someone is truly in love, they’ll be attracted to each other even if they don’t have sex with each other. I think here too people in urbanized cultures, by giving too much importance to sex, are putting the cart before the horse.

I don’t know that we can set the clock back… but we’ll have to be true to human nature, else we cease to be human any more, and I think we are getting close. 

Joseph, the Unsung Hero

It is customary for me to write a post about Christmas before Christmas, but I got too busy this Christmas to write anything on my blog… so here is my post-Christmas, Christmas post. After all this is the 4th of the 12 day Christmas, so I am not late any ways.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been pondering what it is to truly be a strong man. I have been looking at most things in life through this lens. Christmas is no exception. I think the unsung hero of Christmas is Joseph, Jesus’s foster father.

As per Old Testament law, if a woman were to get pregnant out of wedlock, she’ll have to be stoned to death. Back in those times, if a woman were to be pledged a man and she is already pregnant, he’ll probably be the guy to hurl the first stone at her. But Joseph being a good man (Matt 1:19) decides to quietly divorce her instead of brining shame upon her. It is noble for a man of that stiff-necked patriarchal culture to be so benevolent.

But then Joseph has a dream and the Angel wants him to go one step further and marry Mary. The Man Joseph had no hesitation. He, with amazing speed agrees to be given the shorter-end of the stick (Matt 1:24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife…). By agreeing to marry Mary, Joseph also forgoes the pleasure of sexual intimacy with his wife (Matt 1:25 But ‘knew’ her not until she had given birth to a son). By sacrificially accepting the shorter-end of the stick, Joseph shows true masculine strength.

Joseph gives Mary and the child the support and legitimacy that they need to live and thrive in a society.  In fact, when people are sarcastic of Jesus later on in his life, they still call him the Carpenter’s son! But for the strong man Joseph…

There are two kinds of strong  people…
First, the high-achievers – the ones who change reality to get what they want.
Second, the high-sacrificers – those who shoulder the weight of reality to give to others the strength and the support they need, whilst sacrificing their personal prerogatives.

From Steve Jobs to Justin Beiber, the popular culture admires the high-achieving men, who make themselves look good by having great achievements under their belt. I submit that it is the second kind of high-sacrificing men that are seldom looked-up-to. From Bruce Oslon to William Carey, these people expend themselves sacrificing their personal well-being for the sake of others. These are are the ones that are truly strong.

Ironically, ‘popular Christianity’ is no different from popular culture in that it celebrates strong men of high-achieving kind over the stronger men of the high-sacrificing kind. David is the considered a hero in ‘popular Christianity’ because he slew Goliath. He is the strong man who’ll won many battles. But ‘popular Christianity’ often fails to reckon that when it comes to taking responsibility for his kids and family, David was a TOTAL failure. Then there is the whole affair of his impregnating another man’s wife and then trying to get the innocent man to take responsibility for it, failing which, getting him killed. Where David fails to take responsibility for what was his, Joseph does the opposite. He take responsibility for what wasn’t his. That is where true high-sacrificing manliness is. Carpenter Joseph is a stronger man than Kind David.

With 2011 ending, one of the key obituaries people are reminiscing about is the demise of the legend Steve Jobs and how his life has affected billions around the world. What is seldom acknowledged is that Steve Jobs was a terrible father. He disowned the kid (Lisa Brennan Jobs) of the first lady he impregnated. On a court case on paternity, he went so far as to claim impotence. He tried to wriggle out of a second out-of-wed-lock impregnation too before finally agreeing to marry the lady. His daughter did not invite him for her graduation. All of this history of Steve being an irresponsible father is often glossed-over because in the eyes of ‘popular opinion makers’, his public achievements override his private failings.

Let alone popular opinion makers, the idea of celebrating strong high-sacrificing manhood is seldom appreciated even in the Church. The failure of the Church to preach this sort of manhood has had a detrimental impact on the society. I was reading an article by the sociologist/historian David Brooks in New York Times. He talks about the social plight of 40% of the children that are born today being out-of-wedlock kids. Single moms are having to step-up to give the kids a good chance at life. Most of the single moms are great in being momma grizzlies. They show great resilience. The society/government tries to do what it can to help such single moms. But what is missed in the dialogue is the root cause of this problem, which is the irresponsibility of the men that impregnate the women. David Brooks goes on to say that  we have lost the social norms from a 100 years ago which warranted that a man who impregnated a woman was expected to marry her.  If only we had more Josephs we’ll have fewer out-of-wedlock kids.

We need to delve a little deeper into the psyche of modern men who refuse to take responsibility for impregnating a woman. I suspect that the impetus to be irresponsible is not so much about an aversion towards being a father, as much as it is about a craving for pleasure (of the illicit kind, to not be bound to one ‘partner’ in crime). This craving for pleasure is crudely epitomized by Christmas celebration in the Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania where the Dean approved a Christmas tree decorated with condoms ( Here too Joseph sets a great high-sacrificing example. It would have been legitimate for Joseph to have wanted to share sexual intimacy with his wife, but he refrains. He sacrifices pleasure in order to help and love Mary. Joseph’s loving-kindness towards Mary in refraining even from legitimate pleasure is a great example to both men and women in today’s world whose lives often seem to be defined more by craving for illegitimate pleasures than by virtues of love, kindness and sacrifice.

In contrast to the high-achieving heroes of our age from Steve Jobs to Justin Beiber (who I believe is currently battling a paternity claim), Joseph stands tall and timeless – a high-sacrificing man with a spine and a chest, shouldering the responsibility of protecting and loving the vulnerable. In as much as the likes of the Josephs remain the unsung heroes, today’s society as G.K.Chesterton says, will continue producing ‘men without a chest’. Eventually, such a civilization will disintegrate, not for the lack of high-achieving heroes of the Jobs kind, but of the lack of high-sacrificing heroes of the unsung kind of Joseph.

Sojourn – A High Stakes Christian Covenant Community

(Disclaimer: What is stated below is my impression of what Sojourn Church Community stands for. My impressions may or may not reflect the Church’s official stand on things)

‘Covenant’ is a very heavy word that has in recent times has lost the depth of its meaning. Before the modern idea of ‘contract’, became the norm for any transaction whether marriage or business, it was ‘covenant’ that bound people together. Covenant has a deep relationship aspect which the ‘matter-of-fact’ contract lacks. Where contract tries to define the boundaries of the liabilities, the covenant went ALL in. Where contract is signed in ink, covenant was signed in Blood.

When I realized that Sojourn had a ‘Covenant Membership Class’ to induct new members, my understanding of the weight of the word caused pause. I needed to really consider the stakes involved. Generally speaking, a Covenant answers three questions, what do I need to give? what do I get in return? who is the covenant enforcer? To me, the key question to which I wanted to find the answer to was the first one, ‘what do I need to give?’. I wanted to know what was at stake before I could commit to be a member of this Church.

Because I was apprehensive, I made sure that I could decide not to become a member if I didn’t want to, after attending the class. I was assured that I could. So I attended the class last week. The covenant class was taken by the passionate Pastor Joseph and facilitated by the able administrator, Drew.

Three points stood out to me from the class.
1. The need to create a Christian presence in urban enclaves.
2. The need to allow the Gospel to permeate everyday aspects/rythmns of ones life.
3. The need to commune, submit and be strengthened by each other.

In every culture, there is a part of the society that is fragmented and is in dire need of the gospel. The Christian has two options to deal with this. Either jump headlong into the decadent culture, open it up to the Good News by building a Shining City in the midst. Or retire to the Christian ghetto, assured that one has the ‘ticket’ to heaven and that one will ‘make it’ even if all hell breaks loose around them. It seemed to me that the Sojourn Christians are encouraged to be of the first kind of Christians. To be the Christian of the first kind, one has to venture outside of one’s comfort zone. For example, Joe said that if you decide to live in urban enclaves (as against the suburbs), you may not be able to own a house until you are in your mid-thirties or early forties. Besides, you have to open your homes for neighbours to come and fellowship at. That is a sacrifice one has to consider making to be a high stakes Christian of the first kind. 
This a not a low bar. But how could I not covenant with that?  Check!

A big problem with the urban progressives is a sense of entitlement. The urbanite believes he/she has a RIGHT to happiness, no matter what is at stake. In fact, I think, one could draw an almost straight line from the belief in right to happiness to the breakdown of marriages in the Western civilization. The only thing that can effectively work against this obsessive ‘pursuit of happiness’ is the Gospel permeating every aspect of our life. Gospel kills the discontentment that arises out of the sense of entitlement, by helping us SEE the crucified Lord. This Gospel-focus SHOULD fill us with the GREATEST sense of GRATITUDE that nothing else would matter so much so as to rob us of our ‘joy’ in the Lord.

Joe recounted how one of the Elders in the Church had to recite the Gospel to him when he was feeling discontentment over something. It is a great example to see pastors use a self-deprecating examples to glorify the Gospel. To make much of Christ and less of self is the fruit of the workings of the Gospel. It seemed to me that the Sojourn Christians are encouraged to be Gospel-focused to make much of Christ and less of self in their everyday aspects/rythmns of life. 
This a not a low bar. But how could I not covenant with that? Check!

If  the urban progressives had real, healthy and cherished communities, the Starbucks business model would have bombed right at the start. After all, a good number of people that go to Starbucks for the pseudo-community experience than for the ‘real’ coffee. In contrast to the pseudo-communities around us, Christians are supposed to be the ‘real’ community builders. We are to find our identity in the community of those who love the Lord. While most pagan communities that look real are built upon principle of ‘networking’ driven by self-interest of some form, the Christian community is built upon virtues of mutual love, mutual submission and mutual exhortation. Unlike Communism (Marxism), the Christian community is not classless, there is a definite hierarchy. But the Christian community is a lot more radical than Communism in that Communism mandates that everyone be treated equally, whereas in the Christian community, one is expected to treat the other better than one self. This is where rubber meets the road. This a high bar. I’ll need to covenant with that! Check!

It takes a lot of gospel-focus, prayer and mission mindedness to be able to fulfil my part of covenant deal. Truth be said, it will not be easy. But I have the ‘Helper’ (John 14:16), the Lord the Holy Spirit to help me through. Even if I fail, the covenant Enforcer is gracious (Romans 3:23 – 26: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood). The covenant is cut from His blood, not mine, which is why I can confidently go ALL-in into this high stakes Christian covenant community.

Another Blessed Lonely Christmas!

Owing to multiple reasons, I schedule my annual vacation round Feb/March. Consequently, this is the 5th Christmas, in a row, that I am going to be away from family. Actually, I have lost all memory of what made Christmas special when I was young. It is sort of sad.

The only thing that is Christmasy about my life these days is listening to Christmas songs. There are some songs that always bring a tear to my eye. One is ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ The other is ‘What Child is This’

Little Drummer Boy is about this little boy standing by the manger Jesus is born at. He loves Jesus so much, but he has nothing to give Him. BIG people come and give Jesus BIG gifts. He is sad that he has noting to give the King. He thinks and thinks what he can give Jesus. Then he realizes that he can play the drum for Jesus. He sweetly asks Jesus, ‘Shall I play for you?’. He plays the drum for Jesus. He plays his BEST for Jesus. His ULTIMATE joy is in seeing… ‘Then Jesus smiles at me… Me and my drum…’. Even writing this makes me tear up, that the Lord is pleased with whatever little I can glorify Him with. He considers it precious. I think I try to put myself in his shoes a little too much. The GOAL of Christmas is not just to have a good time. But to make our Lord ‘smile’ at us and what we do thing Christmas.

‘What Child is this’ makes me tear-up not just because the tune evokes a depth of transcendence and awe and mystery, but because there is a philosophical depth to it too. The song deals with the whole Person of Jesus. His Kingship ‘King of Kings’, His mean estate ‘among ox and lamb’, His Love ‘pleading for sinners’, His crucifixion ‘nail, spear shall pierce through him’. It also talks about ordinate human response ‘Good Christian fear’, ‘Hail, hail the Word made flesh’, ‘Let loving hearts enthrone Him’, ‘Raise, raise a song on high’. The going back and forth between Christ’s Greatness and Human Response brings tears of joy and admiration.

Christmas is BEST when Christ is made the Celebrity that is most admired over and over again… When people tear-up in Michael Jackson concerts, how much more should we tear-up when Christ is the Celebrity??? Well, this applies only to the sensitive mushy ones I guess… 😛

I think lonely Christmases are blessed because being alone around Christmas has given me a greater appreciation for life. It has given me the ability to appreciate life in spite of life being reduced to the bare essentials. It is at such times that I gets to really enjoy God. Loneliness is a very small cost to pay for the opportunity to enjoy and be satisfied in Christ.

It was St. Francis of Assisi who said, “A man who has everything and Christ has everything. A man who has everything but Christ has nothing. A man who has nothing but Christ hasn’t anything less than the man who has everything and Christ’. Understanding this quote of the great Saint at a philosophical level is one thing. Living it at an existential level is a whole another experience. Blessed lonely Christmases give me this priceless experience.

At the end of the day, Christmas is about glorifying God and share my Joy in Christ with people around me. I can always do this whichever part of the world I am at, for the WHOLE world is the Lord’s and the WHOLE world CELEBRATES the King of Kings!