Month: January 2015

Three Voices: The Binding of Isaac

The following are three monologues I wrote for a Religion, Spirituality and the Arts workshop and presentation sponsored by Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary.  The work was on the Binding of Isaac:  Genesis 22.    Here is the passage:

 

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt-offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.’Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ He said, ‘The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?’ Abraham said, ‘God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.’ So the two of them walked on together.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’ And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘TheLord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’

isaac

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

 

The following are three monologues spoken from the perspective of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac.

 

ABRAHAMabraham

I suppose you find me heartless.

You take my story and you think, “How could anyone do such a thing?”

I am Abraham. I am the Father of the nations

I had a son.  He was a beautiful boy. Dark and willowy, like his mother.  Her name, was Hagaar. I took it upon myself to find a way you see.  To have a son.  His name was Ishmael and he was beautiful. I learned I was not in control of Yahweh’s plan.

I suppose you find me heartless.   But you did not journey to Sodom and Gomorrah to a people who had forgotten Yahweh. I tried to strike a deal, but there was no hope of redemption.

I became more devoted.  I saw that my wife Sarah and I were only alive because of him. My only choice was obedience.

I had a son.  He was a beautiful boy.  Strong and broad, like his mother.  Her name was Sarah. It began that day the three visitors came and we offered water and food and they announced that she would have a child, and she who should have no voice was the first to break the world with laughter.  And God did provide.

A son. The seed which would carry my name, the name that God had given me.

You see he only belonged to me, because he was given and he could have been taken.  His name, was Isaac.

And on that day before the sun rose, when the desert earth was cold and the wind slapped with painful force, I heard Him call my name. I was ready. I had been ready. The test had begun.  I believed that through my obedience, God would provide, and he did.

I suppose you find me heartless.

There was no other way.

 

 

SARAH sarah

 

There is always another way…

I am Sarah.  The mother of the nations, the mother of all sacrificed children. I have heard the cries of my daughters who watch their children be sacrificed on the altar of war, hatred, and greed.  I have seen my daughters weep, as their children hang from trees, die in camps and be gunned down in classrooms.  I have seen many children sacrificed in the name of a misunderstood God.

When will we learn that the God who speaks through angels, suffers when Her children suffer?  You cannot tell me that God does otherwise.  I have seen too much.

It all began when the three visitors came and we provided food and drink that hot afternoon, I overheard them say I would bear a child.

Such news was painfully laughable. 90 years of not living my life purpose. 90 years of being without a babe at my breast. And now they said I would be bear a son.  The cry of laughter rose up in and rang out through the scorching heat like a thunder-cloud.

And the storm began.

He was a beautiful boy. My son. Tall and broad. Like me. Strong and trusting. Too trusting.

I should have known, that morning. When the camp was too quiet.  The horses and the men were gone and he was not in his tent.

Have you seen my son?  His name is Isaac.  He is my son. My only son.

“Isaac? Isaac!  Isaac!  Where are you?  Have you seen Isaac?  He was here.  He was just here. He’s missing. Something is wrong. I have lost him. He was just right here.

No! This will not happen.

Oh Lord my God, hear my cries! Send your angels, send your angels, send your angels to save my son!

“Isaac!!!”

 

 

ISAAC

 

The sky that morning was an indigo blue.  The stars were still out when he came to my tent and shook me awake.

The animals were already loaded with packs on their backs.

The men stood by, holding their reigns.

He stood apart, looking toward the mountain.  He turned back, nodding at me to follow. I scrambled to find my sandals and coat and ran to meet him, as he faced the mountain.  A hawk screamed overhead, piercing the silent morning sky.

We walked on. I turned back once, to look down at the camp and I remembered my mother.

I hadn’t said goodbye.

The sun began to peek through the rocks. A scorpion hid from the light. A snake recoiled. The animal’s breath filled the air with smoke.

The air became thinner. The sun now blinded our eyes.  Home was now a memory.

“Stay here.”  He told the men,  “While we go make a sacrifice to  Yahweh.”  I had done this before.

I looked for the lamb.

The men stood at a distance.

Did we forget the lamb?

I carried the lumber on my back.  He was too old for such labor.

I lay the wood on rock. And stood. Waiting for him to tell me what to do next.

He told me to lay down.

“What?”

“Lay down.”

“What?”

“Lay down.”

“No. Wait. I don’t want to.”

“Lay down.”

A stringent taste came to my mouth, my heart pounded in my ears, my legs lost their strength.

I saw myself laying down. I  could feel the jagged wood against my back.

The sun, now overhead blinded my eyes.

“No.  Please.”  I heard myself say.

He took rope and bound  my hands above my head, and around my feet.

Like an animal to slaughter.

“The dark silhouette stood over me, the hand raised,”isaac 2

“Father!” I screamed.

The hawk cried.

The earth stood still.

The voice of an angel.

The bleating of a ram.

He untied my hands and my feet. I could not move. I remained there, on the altar. Sacrificed, but alive. I had relieved myself on the wood. The smell of urine pierced my nose.

I did come down from that mountain. I did survive, forever broken, but still Isaac,  losing my sight at an early age, I think it was from staring into sun.

I wonder….what child will be going up the mountain today?

 

 

 

 

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On Leadership: Ten Things To Know About Being an Effective Leader.

I have been trying to figure out what it means to be an effective leader, since I ran for student council president in sixth grade.  I’m still trying to figure it out.  I was meeting with an advisor on my doctoral thesis and he asked me to define leadership. I tried to come up with an intelligent response in 10 seconds. I said something about being self differentiated, a  collaborator, and working toward a common goal.   But the question got me thinking of what I have learned over the years about leadership and the perpetual foot entering the mouth. Here is what I have learned:

1.  It’s Not About You.  Leadership and ego are siblings with a love/hate relationship. Because the fact is, you have to have an ego in order to be effective. You need a level of confidence, charisma, and character to put yourself out there. But, man be careful, because it is not about you. Being a leader does not make you more important than those who are not leaders.  You are not a savior. You do not have all the answers. Your voice matters, but it is not the only voice that matters.  You are awesome, but you’re not that awesome.jesus-496x620

2.  It’s Not About Them.    Leadership is not about making everyone happy.  I’m not sure that came through. Leadership is not about making everyone happy. Being an effective leader means accepting that there will always be those who are not happy.  Pleasing everyone for the sake of the status  quo, means nothing changes and you are a lame duck and a lame leader.  Conflict is normal, healthy and healing.  Be not afraid.

3. Emotions Matter…and They Don’t Matter.   People are emotional creatures. We respond to our fight or flight impulses.  We all have different triggers that make us emotional and it’s hard navigating the field mines of emotions to get work done.  But people are not computers, they are emotional creatures. We all need validation, a feeling of self-worth and to be heard. But be careful. You are not a therapist. Emotions matter, but they cannot supersede critical thinking, constructive criticism and crucial conversations.

4. Change is Hard and Change is Constant.   Change. What a pain in the butt. It makes us anxious and self-critical. What’s wrong with the way we  have always done it? It worked  for us for the past 20 years just fine. Always doing things the way we always have done them is comforting. Patterns, traditions, and routines are important, but they can become sacred.  Leadership is like standing on the beach, watching the waves come in and discerning how the tide will change, for it surely will.  Accept and adapt to change as you would accept the changing tide, remembering it’s still the same ocean.beach at night

 5. Expect Criticism. Yes. You screwed up. You are not perfect. You misspoke, You over reacted.  You under reacted. You wore two different color socks. You  were not prepared. You dropped the ball.  Get over it. Own it. Lean into Grace. Do better next time.

6. The Balcony always Helps. It’s all about perspective, baby.  I have a mentor that is always asking me about the health of the forest. It is easy and tempting to caught up in the trees and all of the technical challenges we face every day, but the real question is, how is the health of the overall forest?  Be aware of those  adaptive challenges and keep your eye on the big picture.

7. You are only one person.    We are all human beings with a limited amount of time and expendable energy. The most effective leader is a healthy one. Model and practice self-care.  Encourage those with whom you work to do the same. You are better leader when you are above ground.

8. Know your Resources and your Limitations.   Be aware of the gifts and strengths of yourself and your organization. Do you know the assets, strengths, skills, and opportunities that come from yourself, your people and your community? Build off of your strengths and those around you. You have more resources and strengths than you realize

 9. Find the Humor.   Dude, lighten up. The work we do is important, life changing even. We wouldn’t do it life we didn’t think it was crucial, but we need to learn not to take ourselves so seriously. A little levity, a little humor, and a little laughter is good for the body, mind, and soul.

10. Keep Learning.   You will never know all there is to know about leadership and you will never have perfected the skill set. You will always have room to grow. So keep learning. Keep reading.  Keep consulting. Find coaches, mentors, colleagues and friends who have been where you are, and will help you get where you need to be. They will help you find a way through. Thank God for those who share their expertise and battle wounds. Listen to those mentors. They know.

My final word:  a mentor friend of mine would always say, “Power to you!” when I would call with a dilemma or challenge. It was to remind me that I had a power within that was not my own. “Power to you!”  You are not alone in this. There is a power that will lift you up and lighten your load. Rely on that power. It’s there for you. It loves you and knows you by name. “Power to you!”

Peace!