Post 329

Family Counselling, Part 5:
Jacob's Past

BLOGGER: Your family is made up of twelve sons and one daughter. There are many half-sibling relationships here. What about you, Jacob. Do you have siblings, or half-siblings?

JACOB: I have only one brother, my twin.

BLOGGER: A twin! Are you an identical twin? Who is older?

JACOB: No, we are not identical. My brother was born first, and the main difference everyone notices when they compare us is that he is very hairy and I am like this. He always was, and that’s even how he got his name, Esau. I was born second, and they named me Jacob, because I was holding Esau’s heel as we left our mother’s womb.

BLOGGER: I suppose it was a surprise to everyone that there were two of you?

JACOB: My mother — her name is Rebekah — told me that when she was carrying us, she suffered a lot. She thought it was one baby, but the Lord told her that it was twins. She heard, “Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples, born of you, shall be divided. The one shall be stronger than the other. The elder shall serve the younger.”

BLOGGER: Wow, and so that’s how she found out she was carrying twins?

JACOB: She knew that way.

BLOGGER: And then you were born holding your elder brother’s ankle?

JACOB: His heel.

BLOGGER: Right, his heel. So did you quarrel a lot when you were children? Was there discord right from the beginning?

JACOB: We had moments of disagreement, but probably it was no worse than what one would find between any siblings. We certainly had different personalities. Esau was always more outspoken and loud. I was quieter. And as we grew older, our interests diverged. Esau’s a hunter, and he’s good at it. I never liked hunting.

BLOGGER: Okay, anything else?

JACOB: I don’t remember anything outstanding or particularly memorable about the years of our youth.

BLOGGER: Okay.

JACOB: Until the time of the blessing.

BLOGGER: The blessing?

JACOB: Before he died, my father gave me the blessing of the elder son.

BLOGGER: But you’re the second-born right?

JACOB: I am.

BLOGGER: But he gave you the blessing for the elder?

JACOB: He did.

BLOGGER: He got mixed up?

JACOB: Yes — well, he got tricked.

BLOGGER: Your father got tricked? He thought you were your elder brother?

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: How did that happen? You said you’re not identical twins.

JACOB: No, but he was blind by then.

BLOGGER: Your father was blind?

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: So you stepped in to take your elder brother’s blessing?

JACOB: I did so only to make my mother happy. She’s the one who had this idea.

BLOGGER: Your mother wanted you to take your brother’s blessing?

JACOB: Absolutely.

BLOGGER: Wait. She wanted this? Why? She liked you better than your twin brother?

JACOB: I had a special bond with my mother. Our temperaments, you could say, were more similar.

BLOGGER: But what about Esau? She didn’t love Esau the same way?

JACOB: Of course she loved him, but Esau had our father.

BLOGGER: What do you mean? Don’t tell me that your father preferred Esau?

JACOB: Oh yes, yes, of course he did.

BLOGGER: He did? Are you sure? Why would he?

JACOB: I know this for sure, yes.

BLOGGER: But why?

JACOB: He liked the game — the meat that Esau could hunt and prepare.

BLOGGER: You must be kidding!

JACOB: I speak plainly.

BLOGGER: You’re saying that your father — what was his name?

JACOB: Isaac. His name was Isaac.

BLOGGER: You’re saying that your father preferred Esau because Esau was a hunter and brought your father meals made of the game he had hunted? And that meanwhile, your mother preferred you because you were more suited to her temperament?

JACOB: This is how it was.

BLOGGER: So then, back to the blessing, it was your mother’s idea to have you take the blessing which your father, Isaac, had intended for your twin brother?

JACOB: She said to me, “Jacob, listen to me. I heard your father speak to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me game, and prepare for me savory food, that I may eat it, and bless you before the Lord before I die.’ Now therefore, my son, obey my word as I command you. Go to the flock, and fetch me two good young goats, that I may prepare from them savory food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father to eat, so that he may bless you before he dies.”

BLOGGER: So what did you say? I guess you agreed?

JACOB: Well, not at first. I said, “My brother Esau is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me, and I shall seem to be mocking him, and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.” I was afraid.

BLOGGER: What did she say?

JACOB: She just insisted. She said, “Upon me be your curse, my son; only obey my word, and go, fetch them to me.”

BLOGGER: Then what?

JACOB: I did not argue with her. I did as she directed. I went and brought her the animals, and she prepared them.

BLOGGER: And then?

JACOB: And then I brought the food in to my father, and I asked for the blessing.

BLOGGER: And he gave you the blessing?

JACOB: Well, not at first. He said, “Who are you, my son?”

BLOGGER: And what did you say? I guess you told him that you were Esau?

JACOB: I did. I said, “I am Esau your first-born. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, that you may bless me.”

BLOGGER: So did he?

JACOB: Well, not at first. He was suspicious because of my voice, and I guess because of how soon I had the food. He said, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?”

BLOGGER: What did you say?

JACOB: I said, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.”

BLOGGER: Is that a lie? So then what happened after that?

JACOB: Well, then it was worse, because he wanted to touch me to see if I really was Esau!

BLOGGER: Oh boy. Exactly what you had been worried about.

JACOB: Indeed.

BLOGGER: So what happened?

JACOB: Well, he felt my arms, but he thought that I was Esau, because my mother had put onto me the skins of the young goats. She covered my hands and the back of my neck with them.

BLOGGER: So this is a complete deceit.

JACOB: My mother is very intelligent. She thought of everything.

BLOGGER: But your heart must have been pounding.

JACOB: I was certain I would be found out.

BLOGGER: But?

JACOB: But he didn’t know it. He only asked me one more time if I were Esau, and when I said “I am,” he just gave me the blessing.

BLOGGER: Do you remember the words of the blessing?

JACOB: Of course. They are engraved upon me now.

BLOGGER: What’s the blessing, if you don’t mind my asking?

JACOB: “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed! May God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be every one who curses you, and blessed be every one who blesses you!”

BLOGGER: So that’s the blessing which he had intended for Esau?

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: In the blessing, he mentions how you smell. So he smelled you too?

JACOB: He said, “Come and kiss me,” and when I did, he smelled my garments.

BLOGGER: But how could you smell like Esau?

JACOB: My mother gave me Esau’s clothing to wear.

BLOGGER: Oh!

JACOB: Yes, his best clothing, actually.

BLOGGER: I must say, it’s almost as if your mother had been planning this for years.

JACOB: I don’t know, but she was probably remembering the words given to her by the Lord.

BLOGGER: You mean about the two nations at war in the womb?

JACOB: Yes, and: “The elder will serve the younger.”

BLOGGER: Oh, I missed that part. The prophesy was that the elder twin would serve the younger twin?

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: So you think that her memory of those words may have influenced her actions in substituting you for the blessing?

JACOB: I don’t know. I cannot speak to this. I can only say what happened.

BLOGGER: And what about you? You went along with all of this. What did you think of this plan? Did you agree with it? Were you happy at the prospect of receiving the first born’s blessing?

JACOB: At first, I was confused at my mother’s directions, but then I thought it was good.

BLOGGER: Good?

JACOB: Yes, and also just.

BLOGGER: Just? Really! In what way could it have been just?

JACOB: Esau didn’t care about his birthright. He had already sold it to me.

BLOGGER: What?

JACOB: He traded his birthright to me for a bowl of lentil stew.

BLOGGER: How could he have? When?

JACOB: It was several months before the day of the blessing, but I don’t remember exactly when. He had come in from hunting, and he was very, very hungry. He saw that I had just made some stew. It was ordinary stew, with lentils and vegetables, but he was famished. So he said to me, “Give me some of that stew.” I said to him, “I will give it to you in exchange for your birthright.”

BLOGGER: What did he say? I guess he agreed?

JACOB: He said, “What use is my birthright to me if I perish for lack of food?” So you see how little he valued his birthright.

BLOGGER: And so you felt that —

JACOB: That it was mine, yes.

BLOGGER: Because of that conversation?

JACOB: Yes, of course.

BLOGGER: Okay, let me think here. So you actually had no qualms about your mother’s plan, because you felt that the birthright already belonged to you.

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: Wow. Okay.

JACOB: Esau could have refused to make the bargain.

BLOGGER: Right, but what about what your father wanted? Did your father ever find out that he gave the blessing to you, instead of Esau?

JACOB: He found out right away. Right after he had eaten the meal and the bread, right after he had drunk the wine, Esau came in with the meal that he had prepared, using the game he had hunted.

BLOGGER: Oh my.

JACOB: Yes. He went in to our father, and asked for his blessing.

BLOGGER: What happened? Did you see?

JACOB: No, I didn’t see, but I could hear the conversation from where I was. And my mother saw everything and told me later. She told me that Isaac my father began shaking terribly when he realized what had happened. He said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him?—yes, and he shall be blessed.”

BLOGGER: So it was too late to “undo” the blessing?

JACOB: Too late, of course. The blessing had been spoken.

BLOGGER: So then they were both upset? Both your father and Esau?

JACOB: They were both upset. Esau cried out very loudly, very bitterly. He said to our father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!” And my father said, “Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing.”

BLOGGER: And then what?

JACOB: Then Esau said about me, “Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has supplanted me these two times. He took away my birthright; and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.”

BLOGGER: Indeed. Now did you not feel guilty in all of this?

JACOB: Guilty? I don’t know how I felt. I knew it was too late for Esau to take away the blessing I had received.

BLOGGER: So you felt like you succeeded?

JACOB: My mother’s plan had worked, yes.

BLOGGER: And so then Esau got nothing?

JACOB: My father initially said that he had nothing left to give. So you see, that would have been me, with nothing. In that sense, I do not regret it.

BLOGGER: You say, “initially,” so does that mean that he did find something left for Esau?

JACOB: Yes, he did. At first, when Esau asked him, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” my father said, “Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brothers I have given to him for servants, and with grain and wine I have sustained him. What then can I do for you, my son?” But then, Esau asked him again. He said, “Is it the case that you have only one blessing that you can bestow?” He cried out so loudly, and he begged him, “Bless me, even me, also, O my father.” He was crying.

BLOGGER: And you really felt no guilt?

JACOB: I suppose I did, but it was tempered with the knowledge that he was standing in my own shoes.

BLOGGER: Alright, but your father Isaac did bless him?

JACOB: Yes. His blessing was that he would live by the sword, and that he would serve me. But it said that when he broke loose from me, he would be free.

BLOGGER: So the blessing spoke of a day when he would be free from your control.

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: Wow, this is a lot to absorb.

(Silence.)

BLOGGER: There are certainly a lot of parallels between your past and your present.

JACOB: Perhaps.

BLOGGER: Well, don’t you see it? You have been so angry about how your father-in-law put Leah in place of Rachel on the wedding day, so that you didn’t marry the woman you had wanted to marry, but you yourself stood in for your twin brother! And your disguise was far more elaborate than Leah’s! She wore a veil, and that’s normal on a wedding day, but who wears someone else’s entire outfit along with goat’s skin?

JACOB: It was my mother who supplied these! I would not have conceived of such a plan!

BLOGGER: Are you sure? After all, you asked Esau for the birthright at his weakest moment!

JACOB: But he didn’t have to agree!

BLOGGER: True, but you didn’t have to ask!

(Silence.)

BLOGGER: But look, I understand that the situation was very imbalanced here. Your father prefers your brother, and all of this is very open. I think it would be painful for you.

JACOB: I knew it was that way.

BLOGGER: As in, you knew he preferred Esau?

JACOB: Yes.

BLOGGER: Right. And I want to bring that into the present, and into your approach to your relationships. You have a favouritism towards Rachel that persists even after she has died, and —

JACOB: Rachel has done nothing wrong! We cannot speak ill of her!

BLOGGER: I am not criticizing Rachel. I am saying that you need to reconsider your approach. Rachel is gone, and nothing can harm her. Leah is alive, and, as you said, has always been faithful to you. Leah can be hurt when you reject her.

JACOB: I am not rejecting her.

BLOGGER: Well, there are many forms of rejection. Your father’s behaviour was perhaps a form of rejection.

JACOB: I will not speak ill of my father.

BLOGGER: That’s nice. But it’s good for us to notice what happened before, because it seems to highlight what you are doing now. And we want to talk about the family dynamics that are occurring now, right?

JACOB: I guess that’s why we’re here.

BLOGGER: Yes. What I am thinking is this: your approach with your sons is also questionable. You say that you would give your life for any of them —

JACOB: I would!

BLOGGER: And I believe you, but my point is that you are engaging in a sort of exaggerated favouritism when it comes to Joseph, and probably Benjamin somewhat as well.

JACOB: What do you mean?

BLOGGER: I mean that your father neglected you, because he was so focused on Esau, and in the same way, you are neglecting your other sons, because you are so focused on Joseph.

JACOB: No, this is untrue! There is no neglect! When have I let them go hungry? When have they been without shelter? I have provided for their every need!

BLOGGER: But perhaps they have been, in a sense, without a father?

JACOB: I am their father! In every sense!

BLOGGER: Did you experience the love of your own father?

JACOB: Your question is now, what?

BLOGGER: Did you experience the love of your father?

JACOB: Did I experience the love of my father?

BLOGGER: Yes.

JACOB: What kind of question is that?

BLOGGER: I don’t know. Is it an unanswerable question?

(Silence.)

JACOB: Look, this is not something I wondered. I did not say, “Does my father love me? Does my father not love me?” I am his son, and he is my father, and that was all.

BLOGGER: Did you experience the love of your mother?

JACOB: Of course! Of course I did! I still do!

BLOGGER: Oh! And you answer so readily!

JACOB: But this is a different question!

BLOGGER: It seems to be!

JACOB: She is a woman! It is entirely different! It is in her nature! A woman is tender, affectionate, and so on.

BLOGGER: But it is not in a father’s nature?

JACOB: No!

BLOGGER: But then what about Esau and your father? What about you and Joseph?

(Silence.)

JACOB: I don’t know! I don’t know! You tell me! Who understands everything hidden? How can I know?

BLOGGER: It’s true. These things are mostly hidden, and when we want to understand, it’s difficult.

(Silence.)

BLOGGER: But what I am concluding is that it seems there is a sinful behaviour that is repeating here. It’s not being addressed, and so the result is a pattern that’s going from generation to generation.

JACOB: Sinful?

BLOGGER: Yes, don’t you think so?

JACOB: Sin?

BLOGGER: Yes.

JACOB: I see what you are doing, but nothing will be gained with such speculation and questions in the dark! Blind and pointless musings! No matter what my father did or did not do, I will not speak ill of him. I will not speak ill of my father.

BLOGGER: I guess we’re different like that.

JACOB: Pardon me?

BLOGGER: Ah, nothing.

 

Post 328

Family Counselling, Part 4:
Wrestling with Jacob

BLOGGER: I had a question for you, Jacob.

JACOB: I am ready. What is it?

BLOGGER: Tell me, how do you know that Reuben is your son?

JACOB: What? Reuben? Reuben, this is my son! He is my first born! Why do you ask, “How do I know?”

BLOGGER: Well, I wanted to check.

JACOB: Of course, he is mine.

BLOGGER: And Simeon?

JACOB: Simeon, too, yes, of course, he is my son.

BLOGGER: What about Levi?

JACOB: Levi, yes, he is my son!

BLOGGER: How do you know?

JACOB: What is this questioning? Of course I know. I know!

BLOGGER: But how do you know? Mothers always know, but fathers cannot know in the same way, of course.

JACOB: Levi is mine — these are all mine, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah! And Is’sahar, Zebulun!

BLOGGER: Those are sons of Leah, yes, I know, but paternity is not always so simple.

JACOB: Oh, now you are too close to offence! I know that Leah has always been faithful to me!

LEAH: Here is the first sensible thing I heard out of you.

BLOGGER: And I believe you.

JACOB: What is not to believe?

BLOGGER: But what about these other men, from the maids of your wives? How can you be sure that they are yours? Were the maids not free to find husbands of their own?

JACOB: But, the sons are mine! I know they are mine! Look at them. Look at their faces! It is my own face! Look at them! How can you say they are not mine? These are all mine: Dan, Nephtali, Gad and Asher. How can you question this?

BLOGGER: Well, the situation was so — wild. I don’t know how anybody could keep track.

JACOB: “Keep track!” I could “keep track.” I knew my own household! How could I not know my own household? It is you who doesn’t understand. For you, this is just names on a paper, but for me — for me this is my own flesh and blood!

BLOGGER: Your own flesh and blood.

JACOB: I dare not give an oath, but I answer you, yes, of course these are my own, my own flesh and blood, every single one of them. And Dinah too.

BLOGGER: An oath is still just words though?

JACOB: Woman, are you in your right mind? Have I not suffered enough through your questions?

BLOGGER: What would you be willing to do to prove that they are yours? I know you cannot show me any documentation or laboratory results.

JACOB: Woman!

BLOGGER: What would you be willing to do to prove that they are yours?

JACOB: For this, what? I can give anything. Anything! I would give my beard and the head wearing this beard for any of my sons. And you tell me, if you are so clever, who would say that, except for a true father? For any one of these, I would give my life.

BLOGGER: Ah, yes, then you must be their true father.

JACOB (with exasperated and dramatic sigh): Finally!

BLOGGER: So you are the father of not only Joseph and Benjamin, but also of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Nephtali, Gad, Asher, Is’sahar, and Zebulun. And Dinah.

JACOB: Yes, yes! Has my story changed, that you ask me everything one hundred times and then one hundred times again? It is amazing I submit myself to such questioning. Your methods, I don’t understand. In fact, as the head of this family, I speak for all of us: none of us understand your questions about paternity.

(Silence.)

JACOB: This isn’t all about the coat, is it?

 

 

Post 327

Family Counselling, Part 3:
Reflections on Favouritism

Why does a parent bond with one child better than with another child?
Why does a parent empathize with one child better than with another child?

Favouritism is natural.
Favouritism is human.
Favouritism is mysterious.

It’s how we operate.
It’s how we relate to friends, acquaintances, and family members.

So many variations.
The child reminds you of yourself, so you like him more, or you like him less.
The child is the exact opposite of you, so you like him more, or you like him less.
The child is successful, so you like him more, or you like him less.
The child reminds you of your ex, so you like her more, or you like her less.
The child misbehaves, so you like her more, or you like her less.
The child is so ‘perfect,’ so you like her more, or you like her less.

Some parents believe they understand themselves.
They believe they know why they favour one child over another.
Other parents can’t figure out why they favour one child over another.

Let me say:
Favouritism is only a problem when the parent doesn’t see it as a problem.
Favouritism is serious when the parent is satisfied with a state of imbalance.
Favouritism is dangerous when the parent feels that the favouritism is entirely justified.
The bad parent says, “This is the way it is. I prefer him/her because of X and Y, and that’s just the way it is. It’s not my fault. It’s how I am; it’s how my child is.”
That’s no good. It’s dreadful, actually, to not care about the imbalance.

I am not worried about favouritism if the parent is worried about it.
Why not?
It’s because a worried parent will think about the imbalance and try to remedy it.

A worried parent wants to know what advice I have to give.

So here it is:

Dear Worried Parent,

First, don’t despair, or think you have an unusual problem. Many parents are drawn to one child more than to another.

Second, continue to show your love to the child you love easily (the “Loved Child,” let’s say).
Do not become cold and distant from the Loved Child in a misguided effort to balance things out.

Third, amplify your efforts with the other one, the “Unloved” Child.
You must work harder in every way.
Try everything.
The fact that things are easier with the other one is no answer.
Don’t blame the Unloved Child when your methods, which work so well with the Loved Child, go nowhere.
You must make every effort to understand the Unloved Child in the way that God understands the Unloved Child.
With effort, you will be able to melt away the barriers between yourself and your child.
I tell you, it is very likely that some of the barriers are in your own heart.
These barriers prevent you from appreciating all of the mysterious aspects of your child’s personality.
Talk with your child in the way that you would talk with your best friend.
Win your child over, using all of the techniques of true love.
Be inventive. Be daring. Be brave. Be silly.
Do not worry about being in control and in charge and all-knowing.
Often barriers between parent and child exist because the parent tries to maintain an image.
You could call it professionalism, but I might call it posturing.
Remove all of these artificial things. Break all the rules.
Forget about being tough and being strong.
Be open instead.
Why do you let your friend see more of the real you than your child sees?
The truth is that your child already knows a great deal more about your weaknesses than you realize.
So you must be humble. Humility is the main thing, actually. And honesty is part of humility.
So often we are dishonest because we are too proud or ashamed or embarrassed to admit how weak we are.
When you are honest about who you are, your child will also become more open.
Do not wait for your child to come to you. That is folly.
You are the parent. You must always be present to your child.
Never close the doors upon your child. That is also wrong. Never give up on your child.
God does not give up on anyone, and part of his not giving up on you (his child), is his gift to you of this child, this Unloved Child who will teach you to overcome yourself.

Post 326

Family Counselling, Part 2:
The Coat

BLOGGER: So let’s continue. How is everything else? We’ve talked about some of the history of your births, and now I understand who is the mother of whom, and I’ve written all of that down. Where does that leave everyone? I see and I have spoken about the tension between some of the mothers, and between Leah and Jacob, but how do the rest of you get along?

JACOB: Everything is good!

BLOGGER: Everything is good?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

JACOB: Yes, we all know what you think. We always know what you think!

LEAH: Oh, you! You don’t know everything. You just think you do!

BLOGGER: I would like someone else to answer. Someone else could speak about the current situation. Reuben, how about you? Are things good between everyone in this generation?

REUBEN: Things are good, yes.

JACOB: See! Just like I said.

SIMEON: We have no problems among us that are worth mentioning.

LEVI: We are shepherds, and we work together in the field. There is no dissension among us.

JUDAH: Mind you, to be fair, we should probably mention one thing, relating to one of us here.

LEVI: Do you mean?

JUDAH: Yes.

LEVI: Ah.

BLOGGER: So there is something?

JUDAH: Something, yes.

BLOGGER: Go ahead. It relates to whom?

JUDAH: To him (pointing)

BLOGGER: To Joseph?

JUDAH: Yes.

BLOGGER: What is it?

JUDAH: Well, to be frank, it’s his dreams.

BLOGGER: Dreams? As in, dreams when he sleeps?

LEVI: Yes! He says he has dreams!

BLOGGER: But — but why would this be a problem?

LEVI: It’s ridiculous! And he won’t stop with it!

BLOGGER: He won’t stop telling you about his dreams?

LEVI: Well, he tells about one dream, and then the next day, he’s got another one!

BLOGGER: You have dreams?

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Do you want to tell me about them?

SIMEON: Of course he’ll tell you about them! He’s not exactly secretive about them!

JOSEPH: I had two dreams. In the first dream, I was binding sheaves in the field with my brothers, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright. My brothers’ sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.

BLOGGER: And your second dream?

JOSEPH: In my second dream, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.

BLOGGER: Wow, those are some dreams!

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: And what do you make of them? How do you interpret them?

JOSEPH: I don’t understand them, but it seems that the sheaves represent my brothers, and the eleven stars are my brothers bowing down to me.

BLOGGER: I see.

(Silence.)

BLOGGER: And I can see why your brothers might not like to hear about them.

JACOB: It’s just a dream! Everyone has dreams. You sleep, you dream. It’s okay. Why is there a problem?

LEVI: Of course, you wouldn’t see the problem with it! You always favour him!

JACOB: Silence! You are not to speak to me that way, son!

BLOGGER: Why did you tell your brothers about these dreams?

JOSEPH: I don’t know. I just did. I never had dreams like these.

BLOGGER: Have you had more dreams like that?

JOSEPH: No, it was just those two.

BLOGGER: And they are important to you?

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Why?

JOSEPH: I don’t know. They just felt different. They felt significant.

BLOGGER: A message from the Lord?

JOSEPH: I believe so, yes.

BLOGGER: How do you feel when you remember them? How do they make you feel?

JOSEPH: When I think upon them, I feel peaceful, even though I do not understand their meaning.

SIMEON: Peaceful!

LEVI: I can’t believe he says it so plainly.

REUBEN: He can’t help himself.

LEVI: Anyone who will listen to his dreams is his new friend.

JACOB: Silence! This is disgraceful! How can you speak this way about our Joseph?!

BLOGGER: It’s okay — we’ll move on. I think I understand better now. So it’s fair to say that when Joseph told you his dreams, you were not very pleased, because you felt like he was making up stories where he was superior? Am I right?

SIMEON: He has absolutely no business saying such things.

REUBEN: We are the elder brothers, and he needs to remember to be respectful.

JOSEPH: But how was I being disrespectful?

LEVI: You impudent thing! What right do you have to talk back like that?

SIMEON: He is getting a big head because our father favours him, and that’s really the true background here. So then it goes into his dreams.

LEVI: You think he actually had a dream like that?

SIMEON: Well, maybe, but I am not saying it means anything. It’s just because Father is always–

JACOB: What? What do I hear coming out of your mouth. What is this “Father always”?

SIMEON: I mean no offence. I am just explaining to the lady that maybe Joseph causes problems because you favour him.

JACOB: Favour him? Well, of course I favour him! He’s the son of my old age! Of course! He is all I have left from Rachel — along with Benjamin.

SIMEON (to Blogger): This is the problem behind the problem.

JACOB: What problem? Am I, as father, not allowed to love my own son? My own son, the child of my old age?

REUBEN (to Blogger): Have you noticed that Joseph is dressed more flamboyantly than the rest of us?

BLOGGER: Well, yes, I see that Joseph’s tunic is more elaborate than the ones everyone else is wearing.

JACOB: This is a beautiful coat I got him! It is beautiful! Most beautiful coat you can find!

BLOGGER: You purchased this coat for him?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: I am almost afraid of the answer, but I should ask: did you purchase such a coat for only Joseph?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: Not for any of your other sons?

JACOB: No, of course not! I can’t afford such coats for everyone! This is unique, and it was truly expensive!

BLOGGER: Okay. I think I might be seeing some of the problem here.

JACOB: I am not a poor man, but I can’t get coats like this for everyone! Why are you all looking at me like this? You need coats too?

BLOGGER: I think your sons feel that you love Joseph more than you love them. I think that’s part of the resentment.

JACOB: Resentment? What ‘resentment’? There is no resentment! Who has resentment?

SIMEON: And there’s something else.

BLOGGER: Other than the dreams and the coat?

SIMEON: Joseph is a tattle-taler.

BLOGGER: Meaning that he reports back to your father things that you don’t want him to report?

SIMEON: Exactly.

BLOGGER: Joseph?

JOSEPH: I have said only what is true.

BLOGGER: You have reported to your father the things that you have seen your brothers doing?

JACOB: See! You see how he honours me! I should know what happens under my own roof! I want to know — I have a right to know what happens on my own fields! Who will deny a father his right to know what his sons are doing to his name? I have a right to know!

BLOGGER: Okay, okay, so I think I’ve got it. Jacob, it seems that your sons believe that you love Joseph more than you love them.

JACOB: What? He is the son of my old age! The son of my Rachel! I break no laws! Tell me where it says that I cannot love him, my Joseph!

BLOGGER: Oh boy.

 

 

Post 325

Family Counselling, Part 1:
Introductions

BLOGGER: Yes, please have a chair. Do we have enough seats for everyone? My, you’re probably the largest family I have had in the office for a while! Why don’t you introduce yourselves, and I’ll do my best to keep track. I am quite forgetful when it comes to names, so I’ll take some notes as we go along.

JACOB: I am Jacob, but you can also call me Israel. These are my sons. I have Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Here is Zebulun and Is’sahar. I have Dan and Gad, as well as Asher and Nephtali. And here are Joseph and Benjamin. Oh, and these are my wives. And this is my daughter, Dinah.

BLOGGER: Thank you for coming, everyone. So then, am I understanding the situation correctly: you don’t all have the same mother?

JACOB: It’s all the same father, that’s the main thing.

BLOGGER: Alright, but just to understand everything, I want to know how everyone is connected. How about this: I’ll ask the mothers to introduce themselves and tell me which sons are theirs? Would that work?

JACOB: I suppose it’s one method. You’re the expert.

BLOGGER: Okay, so why don’t we begin with the first wife?

LEAH: I am the first wife.

JACOB: But I got tricked into marrying her.

LEAH: He never loved me.

JACOB: I got tricked. I worked for him for seven years, and then he gave me the wrong girl!

LEAH: See? You can tell he doesn’t love me.

BLOGGER: Who gave you the wrong girl?

JACOB: Laban! Laban did this! I honoured my side of the agreement, and then he gives me his other daughter, the old one with the weak eyes. The wrong girl! I didn’t even realize it until it was too late! I couldn’t see until it was too late that it was this one beneath the veil, this one, instead of my Rachel. And besides, her attendant was the younger maid — who gives the younger maid to the older daughter? I was tricked! Afterwards he says, “But I could not give you my younger daughter in marriage first; it is not done!” So — would you believe? — Laban made me work for another seven years before I could have Rachel! Fourteen years I slaved!

LEAH: He never tried to love me. No matter how many sons I gave him, his heart never opened to me. If I were to give him one hundred sons, he still wouldn’t care for me! I can never be better than her! I can never win!

BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?

ZILPAH: No, I’m Zilpah.

BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?

BILHAH: No, I’m Bilhah.

BLOGGER: Where’s Rachel?

BILHAH: She’s dead.

LEAH: Dead.

JACOB: My Rachel!

BLOGGER: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

(Silence)

BLOGGER: So we have 1 father and 4 mothers?

JACOB: Should be 4 mothers, but today, only 3 are here. The best one is gone!

BLOGGER (Looking sympathetically at Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah): Okay, so how did this work? Were you married to four women at once, or was divorce involved?

JACOB: Divorce! No! No divorce! Only 2 marriages. These (pointing to Bilhah and Zilpah) — no marriage.

BLOGGER: No marriage?

JACOB: No!

BLOGGER: But children?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: Hmm, okay. I thought you said these women were your “wives.” How about this: we’ll go back to the plan. Let each woman who is present name her sons. Okay?

LEAH & BILHAH & ZILPAH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Who will go first? Whose son is the eldest?

LEAH: Reuben. He is the eldest, first-born to Jacob. I prayed to the Lord, and he gave me son. I thought that my husband would love me if I had a son. I named him Reuben. I said, “the Lord has seen me suffering so much; now for sure Jacob will love me.” But did this work? No. Still he pined after Rachel!

JACOB: You complain so much, but I never asked for anyone other than Rachel. Blame your father! Blame his tricks. He changed my wages ten times! He demanded seven years for Rachel and seven years for you, and six years for the flocks. It is not my fault! My heart was true; I always loved Rachel and your father promised her to me!

LEAH: But you are not saying things correctly! You never made any room for me; you never gave me a chance! The Lord knows that I would be content with a scrap of your love, yet you give me nothing!

JACOB: I owed you nothing! Yet I still took care of you, gave you a home and food enough!

LEAH: Oh! How he talks like this to me!

BLOGGER: Yes, this is a difficult situation. He feels that he was tricked. And what about you? When your father substituted you for Rachel, what did you think? Did you agree?

LEAH: I was young. Jacob says that I was the “old one,” but twenty-three is not a grandmother! My father put pressure on me; he said nobody would want me because I was so old, and he said I wasn’t pretty, like Rachel. He said that he was rescuing me.

BLOGGER: So you knew that Jacob wanted Rachel?

LEAH: Of course! Everybody knew.

BLOGGER: So then, why did you agree?

LEAH: What choice do I have when I am in my father’s house? My father made it like this. It was not my idea. My mother also agreed.

BLOGGER: So it was a secret plan? Did Rachel know?

LEAH: Later she found out what we were planning, somehow. Perhaps one of the servants told her. She was furious — she was crying, and yelling at me, and almost at our father as well! But it wasn’t my fault!

BLOGGER: So the three of you — your father, your mother, and you — decided that you would be substituted for Rachel?

LEAH: Yes.

JACOB: Oh! The sorrow of it! The treachery! All of you! Your father should be grateful I didn’t murder you!

LEAH: Listen to him! He hates me!

JACOB: You are dramatic for nothing!

LEAH: Oh! You! You said you should have killed me! Who is dramatic? You are dramatic!

BLOGGER: Alright, alright. So let me take a guess, Leah. Were you, on some level, happy to take your sister’s place as the bride?

LEAH: Do I look happy? Who is happy with such a one as this?

BLOGGER: At the time of the wedding. At the time of the wedding, were you happy?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Nobody has ever asked me this.

BLOGGER: Were you happy to be marrying Jacob?

LEAH: I suppose I was. Yes, I was. I thought I would enjoy being his wife, and that eventually, he would be happy as well.

BLOGGER: You thought that he would grow to love you? You thought that you could take Rachel’s place?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Was she better than me? I bore him more children than she did! I could be just as good as Rachel.

JACOB: But you weren’t! You weren’t!

LEAH: Yes, I know that you think that, you crazy man! Don’t you think I know? I was never good enough for you!

BLOGGER: I suppose your happiness was short-lived, because as soon as he found out that you weren’t Rachel after the wedding, he became upset?

LEAH: The next morning, he was furious! As if I were nothing, as if I were worse than a dog, really!

BLOGGER: So it wasn’t a happy ending.

LEAH: No!

JACOB: No! It was terrible!

BLOGGER: Alright, let’s return to the sons. Who came after Reuben?

LEAH: After Reuben, I had another son. My second son I named Simeon, to mean, “The Lord knows that I am hated, so he gave me this son too.”

BLOGGER: And then?

LEAH: I had more sons. When I had my third son, Levi, I said, “Now this time my husband will join to me, for I have given him three sons.” And then I had another son. I said, “This time I praise the Lord,” and I named him Judah.

BLOGGER: And at some point here, because we must be about seven years along, he marries Rachel?

JACOB: Yes! Finally! I was Laban’s slave for fourteen years! He took advantage of me!

BLOGGER: What happened then?

LEAH: They married, but Rachel had no children! I had so many sons, but she had nothing. She envied me.

BILHAH: This is my part of the story, if you don’t mind, Leah. Let me explain. The situation was that when my mistress, Rachel, realized she could not have children with Jacob, she sent me in with him. She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah. I can have children through her.”

BLOGGER: Wait, so you were the servant of Rachel, and she wanted you to conceive a child with her husband? You were helping her in this way?

BILHAH: Of course, yes.

BLOGGER: Oh my.

BILHAH: I had a son for Rachel, and she named him Dan.

BLOGGER: Was Rachel happy about that? The whole system, if I can call it that, sounds dreadful to me.

BILHAH: Of course she was glad! Because of me, she could provide Jacob with a son! She said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” And that is why she named him Dan.

BLOGGER: Then what happened?

BILHAH: Then I conceived again — another son for her. She said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have won!” That’s why she called him Nephtali.

LEAH: I will explain the next part.

BLOGGER: Alright, go ahead.

LEAH: When I found out Rachel’s way — to use her servant — I thought that two could play at that game! After all, I had a servant as well.

BLOGGER: And did it work?

LEAH: Of course it worked! I had son, who I named Gad, to mean “Good fortune!”

BLOGGER: Zilpah, that’s you?

ZILPAH: Yes, I’m Zilpah.

BLOGGER: You had this son, Gad, conceived with Jacob?

ZILPAH: Yes.

LEAH: And there was another one?

BLOGGER: Through Zilpah as well?

LEAH: Zilpah, yes.

BLOGGER: What was his name?

LEAH: Asher, because I said, “Happy am I! The women will call me happy!”

BLOGGER: Alright. Whew. So far, then, we have 8 sons. That is obviously not the end of the story, because there are 12 of you here today.

LEAH: When Rachel was hungry for mandrakes, she let me lie with Jacob. My son Reuben brought mandrakes to me, and Rachel wanted them. So I said, “You already took away my husband — now you want to take away my mandrakes too?” She said, “Then you can lie with Jacob tonight.” So I did, and I conceived another son. When he was born, I named him Is’sahar, to mean, “God has helped me because I gave my maid to my husband.”

BLOGGER: So you had five sons then?

LEAH: Six!

BLOGGER: Six!

LEAH: I named the sixth one “Zeb’ulun.” I said to myself, “God has given me a good dowry. Now my husband will honour me, because I have given him six sons!”

BLOGGER: That’s a lot of sons. No daughters?

LEAH: I had a daughter. This is Dinah.

BLOGGER: Hello, Dinah.

DINAH: Hello.

BLOGGER: Did Rachel have any children of her own?

JACOB: Of course she did! She gave me Joseph, and she gave me Benjamin.

BLOGGER: Okay.

JACOB: But she died when she was giving birth to Benjamin! She died too young! She left me alone!

BLOGGER: (thinking: “Yes, alone, except for the other three women and the twelve sons and one daughter.”)

JACOB: The love of my life.

BLOGGER: Yes.

JACOB: You know, I still think of her every day. Every day. Every day I think of my Rachel. I think: Rachel, you left me too soon. We had so little time together.

BLOGGER: Yes, I’m sorry that she died so young!

JACOB: Yes, so young!

BLOGGER: So who raised Joseph and Benjamin? Their mother was gone; were they raised by the other women?

ZILPAH: Mainly, it was me. I raised them.

LEAH: I helped too.

ZILPAH: No, not really.

LEAH: Yes, I did! Remember when you went away? You went to visit your mother. Who took care of them when you were gone?

ZILPAH: Alright, there was that time, but it was just the once.

LEAH: Ah! Who is forgetting now? You know how to show gratitude!

ZILPAH: I think I was their mother most of all.

LEAH: You remember things to match your taste.

ZILPAH: You are angry at the world!

LEAH: Oh! You scum! Do you see how she talks to me? This is a servant girl, yet dares say I am angry at the world!

JACOB: No, you are both wrong! You cannot say, “I am their mother” — to say this does not make it the truth. Blogger, I tell you: they had no mother! Their mother was in the ground! The only one they had was me: I was their father; I was their mother.

BLOGGER: Alright, so we will need to end today’s session soon. I will tell you my thoughts, as you have asked.

From what I’ve heard, there are a few layers of difficulty here.

I will address Leah first, because the first problems seem to stem from your rivalry with Rachel, which probably predated your wedding to Jacob. I don’t know if this rivalry went both ways, because Rachel isn’t here. It would be likely, though, that even if Rachel weren’t envious of you initially, she would have become so when you took her place. You had hoped, wrongly, that your marriage to Jacob would be a victory, but it was not, because it came about through deceit. You had hoped that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but as we see even now, this is not how it turned out. Now I know that so many fathers viewed and treated their daughters as property, but you did not need to consent to your father’s plan. You consented because you saw the trickery as being to your advantage. You believed, as did your parents, that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but they did not.

Their love was strong. It’s a beautiful love, and overcame the obstacles thrown in its path. Jacob, your enduring love for Rachel today is romantic in its way.

Nevertheless, you, Jacob, have not treated Leah fairly. Once she came under your protection as your first wife, you owed her more than shelter and food. You would have been given the grace from God to treat her kindly. She has experienced a great deal of sorrow, and it didn’t need to be this way. She is a daughter of God, and has a right to be treated with respect, consideration and love. This love need not even be romantic love. It can be the love of one human for another. There is always room in one’s heart for that type of love, and you would not be guilty of dishonouring the memory of Rachel by being kind to Leah. Moreover, as the mother of your sons, you owe her kindness. To treat the mother of your children poorly is a sign of barbarism.

With respect to the servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, you are, along with Leah, in an unfortunate situation which is a product of the types of unions which were accepted in your era. As best as you can, treat each other with compassion. Restrain your anger, because you have been bound together, and when you lash out at one another, you are only preparing future harm for yourself and your children.

 

 

Post 324

Grace Refused: Reflections on Pope Francis' Slapping of a Woman's Hand

I’ll call her Alice. She’s the one whose hand got slapped by Pope Francis on December 31, 2019.

Alice’s demeanour is noticeably different from that of the people around her. Other people are smiling and look like they’re happy to be there on New Year’s Eve. Alice doesn’t look happy or relaxed. She isn’t really there just for the moment. She doesn’t have her phone out, because she’s not there to take photos or videos. She is really focused, and she’s chosen her location well. She is at the front, right behind the barricade, a testament to her planning. You don’t get to the front unless you wait a long while or unless you are pushy, or both.

Alice is so focused on Pope Francis that I say that the way she crosses herself as he gets nearer is just for visual effect and posturing. It’s not about praying. Even while she’s crossing herself, she’s looking around and she’s watching the Pope’s approach.

She is watching him with her hands clasped together, in a supplicating way. She is not smiling. She is just watching him, waiting for the moment when she will be able to speak with him.

There is a woman next to Alice, whom I will call Greta. Greta extends her hand to Pope Francis when he is directly in front of her. From our camera angle, in fact, he appears to be looking directly at her. He takes out his hand, and their hands are about 6 inches apart. Of course Greta thinks Pope Francis is going to greet her. But no — his hand goes up, up, up, and he is clearly looking above and behind Greta. Greta’s eyes follow his hand, and she no longer has hers extended. What is he doing? He has made eye contact with a young girl held aloft by an adult, a young girl with a pink hat and a big smile. She is happily waving to Pope Francis, and he steps forward because she isn’t in the front row. Maybe he will shake her hand? She is further back, and the barricade is there. The young girl prepares to give him a high-5, because his hand is so close to her that it’s more than a wave now. Does he reach it? Yes he does. The Holy Father has stepped forward enough, and extended his hand enough, that they make contact, and of course, they’re both happy about that. I’m happy for them too. Meanwhile, other hands reach up to touch his arm. I think people are just happy to be able to say that they touched him. They are planning to send texts to the people at home to report that.

I notice that Pope Francis, in this video excerpt at least, seems to particularly enjoy finding the children in the crowd, waving to them, talking to them, shaking their little hands. In fact I think it may be fair to say he finds it more enjoyable to notice a child in row two or three than an adult in row one.

When he is done with greeting the little girl with the pink hat, he is very close to Greta, and we see her getting her hand out again for a second try at a handshake. She almost had it the first time, and now he’s even closer. So she opens her hand, palm up, and it looks very much like his hand, which is palm down, is going to meet hers.

But you see, Pope Francis has decided that the high-five was the last of it for tonight, and he is actually beginning to turn away from the crowd. He is not planning on shaking Greta’s hand. She doesn’t know this yet. In her mind, it’s going to happen, because her hand is, once again, about 6 inches away from his. She’s been patient, and she too has expended effort in order to be where she is in the front row behind the barricade.

So as he lowers his hand, it appears that Greta’s upturned hand does make contact with it. And her hand is still on his arm as he turns away. Does he feel her hand? I suppose on some level he does, but his movements are unimpeded, and he is still smiling. I think it’s probably typical for people to hang on to him a little as he pulls himself away from the crowd. Greta watches his arm as it descends, and she continues to hold it, but not forcefully. Pope Francis is still smiling. The bodyguard is watching, but there is nothing unusual happening.

Alice has been watching too, and even though she has been mostly motionless all this time, waiting for the Pope, she has not smiled. She is, as I said, very focused. She is like a cat watching a mouse. Some say that she came from Hong Kong or China in order to ask Pope Francis something pertaining to Hong Kong or China. They say this because she’s Asian and because they have tried to understand some of the words which are audible on the video segment. I don’t know where she’s from, or what she says, but I completely disagree with those who speculate that she was speaking to him in an Asian language. She would be smart enough to know that he doesn’t speak any Asian languages. I think she would use English.

What I see is that Alice changes when Pope Francis begins to turn away. When Pope Francis begins to turn away, she opens her mouth and unclasps her hands. Now she looks like she’s really supplicating, arms outstretched, and protesting. I think her pose is partly dramatic, and partly genuine. I say it’s dramatic because she’s launching into her planned speech, or a short introduction, and I say it’s genuine because she’s really shocked that he got so close and he’s turning away.

So her arm is outstretched, and Pope Francis’ arm is nearby. Greta hasn’t let go yet, actually, and so this affects the way his arm descends somewhat. It is somewhat outstretched, and, as it happens, is very close to Alice.

Alice, like a cat, quickly moves to grasp his arm. Her hands were outstretched anyway, and so it’s just a little reach by her left hand to snag his arm. Her hand is about 4 inches away from his arm. She leans forward even more and catches it with her left hand. You will see she smiles here. Her mouth is open and she looks happy.

As Pope Francis steps away, his weight is on his left foot, and he is facing away from the crowd. When Alice brings her right arm into the act, and pulls his arm closer, the Pope senses that things are not right. He cannot move forward further, and he begins to lose his smile. He holds his ground, which means that his body is in one spot but his arm is now outstretched behind him. He turns his head back to see who is pulling on his arm. We can see that Alice is grabbing his hand with both of hers, and we still see, almost strangely, that Greta’s upturned hand is still there, as if glued. The force, however, is all from Alice, because it isn’t until Alice pulls that Pope Francis’s arm changes course and his upper body gets pulled back to the crowd.

At the same time the Pope is looking at Alice, Greta turns to look at Alice too. I think Greta looks surprised to see that Alice has pulled Pope Francis in. Alice has reeled him in in the way a cat might reel in a fish. Pope Francis’ mouth opens as if he is in pain.

And indeed, it is not enough that she has grasped his hand and that he is now looking at her.

Alice takes this as her chance to speak, and talks nonstop as she forcibly continues to pull him closer to her. He takes about two steps back to her, and he is joined by his bodyguards who also approach. They see that His Holiness has been pulled, and that he shouldn’t be. It’s the shorter bodyguard who can see what is happening and he steps in to intervene while saying something.

Pope Francis pulls his arm down and away from Alice, but Alice won’t let go and she keeps talking. By the time Pope Francis has done this, we can see that the bodyguard is gripping Alice’s left arm. Alice hangs on and keeps talking.

He tries a second time to shake Alice’s hands off of his, but Alice doesn’t let go. She is talking. He’s in the middle of his third shake when he brings his left free hand into the picture.

Whap.

He swats her hand once, while seeming to yell at her, and by then the security guard is holding both of Alice’s hands. There is an important moment when the Pope and Alice are looking at each other, and then the Pope, whose hand is now free, turns and leaves.

He looks very unhappy. Alice says something as he departs and she looks unhappy too.

There have been many reactions to the incident. Some people say that there have been too many reactions to the incident, and that we should all move on because Pope Francis has apologized. It is true that he apologized in a general fashion. He apologized the following day, January 1, in one sentence, and it was this: “So many times we lose patience – even me, and I apologise for yesterday’s bad example.”

I disagree that this incident is now behind us.

This incident has become infamous, and will remain so. This incident will always be a memorable event in his papacy, even amongst his supporters. I am one of his supporters, and I know that this event will never entirely fade away. It has brought ridicule upon Pope Francis and upon the papacy in many ways.

As it happens, his actions happened on the eve of his homily on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. In that homily, he said:

The rebirth of humanity began from a woman. Women are sources of life. Yet they are continually insulted, beaten, raped, forced to prostitute themselves and to suppress the life they bear in the womb. Every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God, who was born of a woman. Humanity’s salvation came forth from the body of a woman: we can understand our degree of humanity by how we treat a woman’s body.

How shall we understand this tremendous ‘coincidence’? How is it that just before speaking so forcefully about the respect owed to women, Pope Francis has been videotaped slapping the hand of a woman?

God has allowed it to happen thus.

Why?

I think that this remarkable sequence of events is meant to draw our attention to the message. Would we have even known the inspired words of the homily, but for this incident? It also means that we are meant to think about the incident more deeply.

The apology doesn’t sweep this incident away, and most certainly, the apology doesn’t act as a moratorium on discussion of the matter.

The fact is that Pope Francis did inflict a form of violence on a woman — a petty, insulting form, but a form of violence.

In his defence,
a) this woman caused him physical pain,
b) she surprised him,
c) she treated him with less respect and decorum than he is used to and which befits his office,
d) he is 83 years old, and not as strong as before,
e) she spoke in an unfriendly and urgent way, and may not have been understandable to him in the circumstances,
f) she would not let go of his hand, even when he tried to shake it free, and
g) he was probably tired.

However,
a) she is a guest in his city, Vatican City,
b) she is likely a pilgrim, and has travelled a considerable distance,
c) she is likely a Catholic laywoman, and therefore one of his flock,
d) she has likely waited for several hours to see him,
e) she is a stranger to him, which means that physical boundaries are more important,
f) she is smaller than he is,
g) she is a woman, and
h) she is a daughter of God.

One of the most critical elements in all of this is the fact that God gave, and continually gives, Pope Francis the ability and the grace and the knowledge to behave properly, and Pope Francis refused it here. Do you not think that God gives abundant graces to those who hold this office? I have said that he gives special help to those who lead countries, and celebrities in the public eye. Would he not help the one who is charged with leading and guarding his flock? Would he not help the one who has been chosen to show all humanity that Jesus is truly the Son of God?

So you see, when Pope Francis slapped this woman’s hands, and rebuked her, Pope Francis was slapping the hands of Christ, and rebuking him.

Am I going further than the Pope himself went, when he said that every act of violence against a woman is a “blasphemy against God”?

By his actions on the eve of the Feast of Mary, he disgraced Our Holy Mother, Mary, too.

That’s the truth.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I continue to pledge my allegiance to Pope Francis, and I do not support those who attack his doctrine. You can see that the doctrine is clear, solid and inspired. But this was a very public act, and it is good for us to address what has happened.

I see, in his sinful act, three things.

I see, first of all, pride. He felt humiliated and embarrassed at being yanked backwards by such a small woman in front of everyone. He was embarrassed also that he couldn’t free himself from her grip. Moreover, he had made a decision to leave, and now he was being led where he did not want to go.

I see, secondly, a mixture of racism and ageism. I believe if the woman had been visibly older, he would have been more merciful. Or if she had been younger, say, 12 or 13, he would have been merciful. And I believe that if she had been either more racially familiar (South American, say) or more racially unfamiliar (African, say), then he would have been more merciful. The thing is that some types of people attract our sympathy sooner than others, and there are some races which people in the public eye are more careful to not offend.

I see, thirdly, sexism. If a man had pulled him in this way, he would not have physically challenged him. He may have rebuked him, yes, but based on what everyone knows about hand slapping, we know that it is not typically the way a man deals with another man. A man will hit another man in the face or shove him roughly if he wants to fight. We all know that the slapping of hands is what has so traditionally been done to women and children. Sadly, part of Pope Francis sees it as an acceptable method of dealing with those who are in a subordinate position when they do something wrong. His upbringing may explain this, but it does not excuse it. In his reflexive use of this method, we see that he does not understand all of the forms of violence against women (and children).

All forms of violence against women are damaging to the women and those who inflict the damage. Society is debased as a whole whenever violence (in any form) against woman is seen as understandable. I have seen comments online by people coming to his defence, and some of them say that, in the same situation, they would have not hesitated to hit this woman in the face.

Really?

So you see, demonstrating that even a “little” bit of physical force is “sometimes” acceptable opens the door. This man thinks that such-and-such a situation warranted such-and-such force, and this other man thinks that such-and-such a situation warranted this other kind of force. The cry that “it’s justified!” should make us stop and think.

Apart from self-defence, a man is always in the wrong when he behaves violently toward a woman.

And no, this was not about self-defence. By the time he turned to see who was holding him, he knew that he wasn’t really going to be in any danger. By the time he looked upon her holding him, it was about anger and it was about vengeance. In that moment, he didn’t care about anything other than putting this woman in her place. He was indignant and he scolded her, physically and verbally.

As he walked away, Pope Francis would have known, already, that he had done wrong. I wish he had stopped, and turned back to where she was. It was within his power to reclaim that moment, and break from protocol. Let the guards wait for a moment. Look, the Pope is coming back! Look, he has stopped in front of that woman again! What is he saying? He must be apologizing, because his head is bent. Oh look! He has gotten down on his knees in front of her! Oh my I hope you have the video camera going! Oh my! She is starting to cry. Oh my have you ever seen such a thing!

Prompt action on his part would have led to a reconciliation. The public nature of this reconciliation would befit the public nature of the violation.

As it is, the one-sentence apology that he made on New Year’s Day is insufficient, because he did not direct it to the woman. For shame! He directed it to the world in general, saying that he is not always a patient man, and that he gave a bad example. He is asking us to forgive him for being less than the person he wants to be, but do you see that he is misdirecting his words?

What about the woman? Does she not deserve an apology?

Trust me, she would receive it. Her friends and her family members — they all know that she’s the one who attracted his wrath. What about an apology to the woman you slapped, Holy Father?

Say to the cameras, “I do not know your name, and I do not know where you are from, but I heartfully and humbly ask, when you learn of my request, that I have the opportunity to meet with you in person to personally apologize to you for my thoughtless, rude, and unChristian behaviour on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady. I hope to meet with you in order to discuss the matter which you wanted to discuss. I will give you my time. If you have already left Vatican City, then I will personally pay for your travel expenses to return for this meeting.”

As I said in a recent post (“Unclassified”), it is more difficult to address a wrong than to avoid committing it the first time, but it can and must be done. It is good that Pope Francis’s sinful behaviour has been revealed, because he needs to think deeply about his rejection of God’s generous and unfailing grace in the moment of temptation. He chose wrongly, and based on the vagueness of his apology, it appears he has not yet admitted the wrongness of his words and actions.

You see, God is all about second chances, and in his great love, he is allowing the great and small sins of the great and the small to come to light these days. We are in a special time, and God knows that sometimes people don’t acknowledge their sins until others observe them. But it is time to acknowledge our sins. We must acknowledge them and then we must ask for mercy from those we have harmed and from God.

Post 323

Not What You Think It Is:
Reflections on Leadership

There is this wildly misguided notion that you can identify future leaders by looking for certain traits. This is the thinking behind ‘leadership’ awards, which are given out in university, high school, and sometimes earlier.

The person or people in charge of predicting the future always look for the same thing. In addition to looking at grades (which are often heavily affected by teachers’ personal tastes in students), people look for a student who has participated in a wide variety of approved activities, by which I mean membership in clubs, teams or other organizations which have a certain level of recognition and respectability. Award-givers are keen on public speaking and debate clubs especially, and they like any activity which seems related to government, such as attendance at events where everyone pretends to be a member of parliament/congress. By extension, anyone who has actually spoken at an actual government assembly is seen, almost conclusively, as a leader.

Now because most leadership awards involve an application process, you can see that predicting a future leader leans heavily in favour of preferring the people who prefer themselves: we reward people who ask to be rewarded. After all, such leadership designations and awards don’t generally fall from the sky. Most award-granting processes require applicants to promote themselves as extraordinary, outstanding individuals who DO MORE than everyone else. DOING MORE than everyone else is supposedly what you need to lead your peers into the future. I question this notion and the entire process, and I would go so far as to say that if a leadership award is in fact given to a real future leader, that would be a miraculous coincidence. These leadership awards are generally exercises in creative writing (by the scholarship-hungry parents), not to mention advance planning — which activities will make me look well-rounded?

Incidentally, this obsession with ‘doing more’ continues into adulthood. I see adults who are spreading themselves very thin in order to belong to every organization under the sun. They are on their community council, leading a church group, volunteering for the festival, hosting a book club, collecting donations for the whatever drive, all while managing their day job, their ‘side hustle,’ their art class, and their Instagram following. What on earth are they trying to prove? That they would be a terrific candidate for political office? That they are living life to the fullest? Yikes. Stay home with your children for a change. Don’t be on display in “the community” or elsewhere. Don’t obsess about your involvement and your accomplishments. Settle down.

True leaders aren’t like this. True leaders don’t do more for the sake of doing more, for the sake of puffing up a resume or a LinkedIn profile. A true leader is distinguished not by an extensive list of activities or even abilities. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single ability that is necessary for leadership. And it goes almost without saying that a true leader is distinguished not by background or connections.

A true leader is distinguished by a deep empathy for those who need a leader. A true leader wants to bring something good to those who need or want it. Compassion and love for others motivates a true leader. Bonum diffusum sui. Out of this love, a leader will be ready to seek the most effective means to achieve the desired end. And this is how leaders often become leaders in the first place. Alphonsus scans the room and sees that nobody else is doing what needs to be done, so he does it, and, lo and behold, a leader is born. He has the right attitude. Maria wants to help the others accomplish a task, and since she is willing to show the others how to do it, she becomes their leader.

Genuine leadership is about willingness to take up a challenge when others need you. So a person can ‘accidentally’ become a leader, much to his or her own surprise. You see, a desire to help is enabling. A desire to help creates leaders.

Thus it is almost impossible to predict who is going to be a leader, because it is almost impossible to predict who is going to want to help in the future. For this reason, it is largely pointless to identify certain people as The Leaders of Tomorrow. Most “leaders of tomorrow” go on to live selfish lives pursuing personal wealth, comfort, thrills, prestige, and power.

You don’t know who the leaders will be.

The leaders will come out of nowhere. They will be those who were in your midst, who allowed you to ignore them and sidestep them while you continued on. They will be the ones who seemed to fade into the background while you were headed for the spotlight. They will be the ones who made things easier for you, and who cheered for you. They will be the ones who brought you good news, the ones who were happy for you when you were happy and who were sad when you suffered unjustly. They will be the ones who advocated for you and who made sacrifices of their time and energy for you. They will be the ones who loved you.

A true leader empathizes with others and sacrifices himself or herself.

A true leader gives more than anyone else.

A true leader does not fear competition or rivals, and therefore a true leader always chooses the best helpers available. Only a bad leader intentionally surrounds himself with people who are incompetent or unmotivated.

A true leader is unafraid of new ideas, and knows that good ideas can come from anywhere. (All ideas which are truly good have the same divine source.)

A true leader is willing to take chances, and is willing to look foolish if that’s what it takes.

A true leader uses new approaches all the time, adapting himself or herself to suit the needs of the people. (St. Paul writes that he becomes everything for everyone.)

A true leader cares more about the success of others and the project than his or her own fame, because the true leader never has self-glorification as an aim. At the same time, if fame becomes part of the package, a true leader gracefully accepts that.

A true leader does not forget all of the help he or she received. A true leader remembers both small deeds and big deeds which made the journey easier.

A true leader understands that the first and final author of any success worth having is God. Without God, what could be accomplished? It is God who gives our eyes the power to see, our lips the power to speak, our hands the power to move. Without God, the sun wouldn’t shine and the earth wouldn’t sustain us. We wouldn’t exist.

So it is to God that first and final praises must go. He is the one who inspires, who encourages, and who brings to completion. He is the one who gives light to our minds and inspiration to our souls. How can we even give ourselves any credit at all, really? How can we congratulate ourselves, when all the while he was behind us, ahead of us, and beside us, giving us everything we needed to succeed?

May His Name be Praised!

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 9:36

Post 322

Dictator

I
see
thirst
appetite
unrestrained
insatiable hunger
desire for one thing
he wants only one thing
the only thing worth wanting
every waking thought every daydream
Power
Power
Power

I
see
hatred
contempt
for the poor
the weak the new
envy and suspicion
of the educated the strong
the student the professor the lawyer
Power
Power
Power

I
see
desire
to conquer
subjugate humiliate
suicide on the steps is nothing
power which is shared is worthless
make it lean make it mean make it mine
tremble at my power for I am your master
Power
Power
Power

I
see
schemes
to break to crush
to challenge the titans
to make them weep in defeat
rules can be broken if broken quickly
did you see what happened neither did I
and when it is over the masses can be bought
Power
Power
Power

I
see
dreams
of an empire
renamed in his honour
a leadership consisting of one
a rich region populated with vassals
farmers workers tradesmen women children
no partners no parties no members no mercy
Power
Power
Power

Post 321

Professor

God is like a professor who gives an exam.
He explains exactly what the students must study.
The materials are clear, with examples aplenty.

He gives adequate warning and time to prepare.
Class time is devoted to practice and drill.
Here’s the pre-test; the exam will be like this.

Yet when test day arrives,
Some ask for more time (An extension is granted.)
While others don’t bother to show. (An extension is granted).

He hands out the exams.
Some students are stumped; their preparation was shoddy.
Their answers are guesses, and their guesses are wrong.

Soon the examination is over; the clock says it’s time.
But he waits for the straggler.
(To snuff the wavering wick isn’t his style.)

Now the students are gone.
They are glad to be done.

Alone, he sighs as he reviews the finished exams.
Success was so possible
‘Twas there for the taking.
And yet —

Can he give partial marks?
He gives what he can.
And those who fail
May rewrite if they want.

As he walks to his car, he wonders to himself.
Are these the same students
He taught day in and day out?
Are these the same students
Seemingly so eager to learn?
Where is the effort?
Where is the will?

 

 

Over here
Here is the will, but
Nothing more, Lord!
I have nothing more
But I wish I did!
I wish I had all the meekness and patience
The determination and the strength
The early risings and the love of suffering
Oh!
It’s not me you can use
Not yet, anyway
I wish it were me
What can you do with me?
My shelves are full of books
I know the stories
I see the examples
So many
So good
I am not of their number
I am not like them
I am every year older
Yet I am never any better
What can you do with me?
My shelves are full of books
The stories of the good
Demonstrate the distance
Between what I am
And what I was meant to be
If only I were the way you wanted me to be!
So meek and so calm
Serene as can be
A heart full of peace
Unafraid of sacrifice
Unafraid of suffering
Prayerful and punctual and everything else
But above all
So full of love
As I was meant to be

Such was my lament
Oh! I didn’t know
The value of wishing
I didn’t know
The value of wanting
I didn’t know
The value of the will

God is like a professor
Who considers the effort
He sees what we want
And if we want what is good
Our wanting is counted to us as righteousness
Suddenly what seemed to be failure
Is a shiny
A+

 

 

Post 320
To Our Lady, who journeys with us

November 23 & 24

This is the fourth anniversary
Of something sweet
The beginning of a new world
That turned some lives
Upside down and right side up
All at the same time.

Jesus, we trust in you.

This is the fourth anniversary
Of first secrets revealed
Of promises made
And companionship in the darkest hour

Two years filled to the brim
Of the unexpected, the undeserved and the extraordinary
Oh the thoughts of the dog!
The thoughts of the dog

Two years filled to the brim
Of spiritual stuff you couldn’t imagine
Of words you didn’t make up
Like the thoughts of the dog

And then a third year
Steadier, stronger
Budding and blooming
Victories, successes and garlands of flowers

A third year
That was nevertheless
Understood best
As another year of waiting

Ah yes

And now a fourth
A year of growing closer
A year of understanding
That the future depends upon circling back to the beginning
The garden the tree the fruit the temptation the choice
A plan so perfect so simple so complete so generous so sweet
That it could only be God’s

There has never been a drama like this
No writer like this
As for me
I did my part but I never knew my role
Consider me astounded

The ring is on my finger
Seven diamonds are mine
But the struggle is not over
The work continues
As does the wait

This is the fourth anniversary
Of looking at the sky and looking at the sun
And the stars and the clouds and the moon
And wondering when
It will all come true

Oh Jesus, we trust in you!