With a growl I rise from hibernation to attempt a public service.
I'm a sucker for fantasy and science fiction movies. City-stomping lizards. Warp drive. Wookies. Astonishingly big smurfs. Dream control. Turning back time by flying really fast. I grin when a fellow techie saves the day, whether it’s The Professor or Mr. Spock. Release a fundamental restriction or two, and fantasy and science fiction can experiment with big questions. What does it mean to be human? What is time? Could you survive a mob of zombies with only your wits and a piece of string? The big questions!
I’m game for inconsistencies for a worthwhile cause. I enjoy a diversion. As a guy named Tolkien urged, “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?
From its trailers I expected the movie Gravity to be a survival epic, sort of Apollo 13 meets Speed. Indeed, the opening minutes of Gravity had little to upset my willing suspension of disbelief. Borrowing a space shuttle from a museum, Sandra Bullock's character (an MD?) fixes the Hubble Space Telescope.
If you have a clear southern sky, low on the horizon you can spot the Hubble Space Telescope around sunset or sunrise. It follows the equator, moving from our point of view southwest to southeast, returning every 96 minutes. The earth is 24,000 miles around. To circle the earth in an hour and a half, the Hubble Space Telescope speeds along at around 17,000 miles per hour.
I was engrossed in this unfolding action, but then the George Clooney cowboy warns that a lethal cloud of satellite debris would orbit back in 93 minutes! That remark rudely smacked me out of orbit.
Drop a paper clip and a cannon ball from the same height. Equal-opportunity gravity makes them hit the earth at the time. Two objects in the same circular orbit take the same time to “fall around the earth” and return to where they started. Since the debris swarm moves relatively faster, it must be in a different orbit. Clooney is needlessly alarmed. Well, except for running out of air. Unless... Wait, what's this? Our intrepid astronauts are orbiting east to west? I grew up during the 1960’s space race. Just by looking up, I saw that satellites travel basically from west to east, so at launch the rotation of the earth gives ‘em an extra push. So maybe--with the help of two lift rockets--the satellite debris and the astronauts are in the same orbit but going opposite directions. No wonder our astronauts have trouble with oncoming traffic! In space no one can hear you honk. Still, shouldn't they meet the dangerous debris not once but twice per orbit?
Never mind, our dangling duo retreats to the International Space Station sailing nearby. East to west or west to east? I try not to care. Again, you can see for yourself! Look up around sunset or sunrise. The Russians who service the ISS need it over their country, so the ISS orbit often takes it into our northern sky. Also, the ISS orbits lower than the Hubble, a hundred miles nearer Earth as I later looked up. Thus, the ISS moves about 2% faster than the Hubble. But 2% of 17,000 miles per hour is still over 300 miles per hour.
How about a down-to-earth analogy? Here’s my opening for a prequel to Gravity that packs the same plausibility. On a country blacktop road, Clooney furiously pedals a bicycle. A trailing rope pulls a wobbly Bullock on skates. Topping a hill sends Bullock zooming past yelling, “I HATE SKATES!” Clooney encourages her onward, “Well looky there, swarms of killer bees!” he charmingly drawls. “We can beat those ol' bees by jumping onto that flaming race car I see over there in the next state.”
Whoa. Back to the movie. Clooney’s character unbuckles the tether. Why? How is this required? Oh, I get it. He is neither sacrificial nor stupid. He just wants to get out of this movie. He has figured out that the screenplay chose a half dozen orbital dramas and stitched them together.
I really tried to reattach my tether to Gravity, but these repeated disconnects kept spinning me off. An awesome five-hundred-plus space travelers walk the earth, but those, their support staff, and we astronerds represent relatively few tickets. By contrast, a quarter of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. (Here, page 7-23.) Real space travel is boring.
Or is it? Before the real-life survival drama of Apollo 13, there was the real-life survival drama of Faith 7. The one-day solo space flight of Gordon Cooper was about done when power began to fail. Exhaled carbon dioxide and temperature built up. Calmly, Cooper manually aligned the ship to constellations in the window. Given a radioed countdown and his wristwatch, “Gordo” fired rockets, held the Mercury capsule at the needed angle, and from skimming the globe at 17,000 miles per hour punched through to a flawless splashdown four and a half miles from the target. Now there’s a guy with the right stuff.
We switch to interior scenes. Of course Miss Congeniality takes off her space suit. I worked with an engineer who helped design space suits. “Layers. Grannies. That’s what makes a good space suit,” he enlightened me. Take your naked body and glue on a Christmas tree net of electrodes to monitor your health and make you itch. Add a catheter, its bag, and a diaper. Eww, but better than the alternative. A serious body stocking goes on next. Without that, in vacuum lovely Bullock would pump up into vintage Schwarzenegger. It also wicks away the sweat you will generate from fighting your spacesuit which also wants to inflate like a balloon animal. Next comes a layer of temperature and humidity regulation tubes and over a dozen other layers hand sewn by NASA granny seamstresses.
People enthuse, “But weren’t the special effects great?” Yes. But as often is the case, reality beats Hollywood.
You want videos of the passing earth? They are real and they are gorgeous. Want cavorting weightless astronauts? How about real stars?
How does a movie named Gravity show less gravity than any other movie? I miss the truthful titling of 2012, when I could see Lincoln or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and not be disappointed.
“Isn't there a human-interest story in Gravity? Isn't there character development? Isn't there courage and ingenuity?” Yes! I’ll leave those to sermons.
“Do we need space suits to overcome life's disasters?” Of course not. You meet overcomers every day! Hollywood, I offer you these taglines for new movies:
I had to leave the room.
I was overcome with emotion; so many years of wounding that I thought I had dealt with were coming back in force. It was too much. I was awash in a flood of simultaneous feelings: anger, hope, relief, hurt, love and the idea that God was bringing things back together for my healing. It simply overwhelmed me.
I came from a mixed family. My father had children with multiple wives, and, like many such situations, this caused a lot of problems and dysfunction. I was talented, even as a kid, and that delighted my parents. My father expressed that delight with favor and expensive gifts. He made it clear that he liked me better than my brothers, and as you can imagine, my brothers just "loved" that about me. To make matters worse, I flaunted my status with them and took every opportunity to rub their noses in it.
That eventually caused a rift that went farther than I ever imagined. Human trafficking became the measured and reasonable response that saved me from being murdered. I was sold as a slave, and through a series of events, I ended up in prison before God eventually pulled me out.
The building of our character and our family's dysfunction are horribly intertwined in our early formation. Success, no matter how poignant or expansive, means little without resolving childhood wounding.
It had been years since I had considered how much this is true. The days in prison left me a lot of time for reflection and contemplation of my family and early life.
Now, my brothers were waiting for my response and were very much afraid. They didn't recognize the arrogant child they had done away with.
If they had, they would have been terrified.
I had dreamed of this moment as a boy, sold into slavery. In prison, I had dreamed of what I would say and do if I ever had a chance to face them again. The speech I had rehearsed a thousand times seemed small to me now. I never thought I would give it while holding their lives in my hands. I was in a different place. They didn't know the agony of soul I had experienced in forgiving them years ago.
When I reveal my name to them, I wonder if they will expect the worst? If they are afraid of retribution, so be it. They had earned a bit of fear. My coat of many colors had acquired an ugly red stain at the end of my chapter with them. Let that horrible crimson and the pattern of blood splattered with lies fill their vision for the day.
I would try to bring healing, even here. I would feed them and bring their families into my house. I would hold the hands of my father again and feel the weight of his embrace.
I had found bread in the very dreams of God, and my word held the favor of the king of kings. My sons were favorites at court and doing well. Promoted from son to slave to criminal to national leader, I knew that God was very much in control. But after all these years, would Jacob know me? How would he remember the son who was lost? Could the relationship with my brothers know redemption beyond the writing off of a very bad debt? Did God provide for even this moment in His sequence of dreams and plans for me?
With that childhood vision, the sun and stars and moon bowed. The colors of my heart had taken on the favor of my Father and had replaced the coat I had lost so many years before. The series of events had led me into God's plan beyond my brothers' ill intent, to the place where I held provision for nations.
It was time.
I am Joseph, the one you sold into a life of slavery beyond appeal or reprieve so many years ago.
Things moved quickly after that.
We don't get to choose our family or early life. We don't get to choose the mistakes of our parents. We don't get to choose the abuse of siblings, or the things done that can never be undone. But if God orchestrates our context before the beginning of time, then His purpose can be seen even there. We don't meet Him in an empty room. We meet Him in this place, crafted by a divine dream to mold us according to His will.
It is a mystery that we don't understand these things until later in life, if we ever really do. But we do get to choose how we respond. We get to choose the shape and purpose of our heart. We do get to finally be free.
Family dysfunction is an opportunity for God to do amazing things. Not just for me personally, but for thousands upon thousands of generations to come. My family of origin is the first and last place I've learned to forgive. That lesson has led to the best dream of all.
"And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all His house and ruler over all the land of Egypt" (Genesis 45:5-8).
I always had an angle.
My gift was cleverness, and I used it to full advantage. Even my name meant, "to grasp" and grasp I did. From my brother's heel at birth to our competitiveness as children, I was always reaching for more. I was never content, always looking for a way to win. Encounters were never what they appeared to be. I was lurking in a constant undercurrent of planning and scheming to further my own interests.
I never had a conversation without an agenda. I never did anything unless it benefited me directly. It was manipulative, but that was the way of the world. I wasn't strong like my brother; I had to find my own strength in unexpected ways.
With Esau, that was surprisingly easy; he was a man of passion and lived entirely for the moment. When I tricked his birthright from him with a bowl of soup, I played on his hunger and weakness. I took advantage of his simple nature and robbed him of things beyond his ability to apprehend.
It even worked with our father, Isaac, as I deceived him in his blindness and old age into blessing me above my brother. I wanted that blessing, and I was willing to do anything to get it.
Lie. Cheat. Steal. Scheme. It was evil and I knew it.
Eventually, my deceptive lines came back to steal years of my life. Laban had used my own trick to press Leah into my family. He let me think I was entering into covenant with the one that I loved, but instead finding my pledge was made to deception. I deserved that one. It was poetic justice for my own choices, and my second seven years of labor were bitter ones.
Now it had all come to an end. Esau was about to cross my path again, and I was all out of ideas. I tried to prepare the way with gifts and bribes to soften him toward me, but it was no use. He was coming in force to meet me, and I was terrified at what he would do to my family. Esau wasn't subtle. The message of the men coming with him wasn't lost on me.
I was broken and I was done. I divided us into groups, hoping my death would buy time for at least some of my children to escape. It was time to pay the price and ultimately, I would find myself at his mercy. With no other choice, I cried out to God. And I meant it.
It was in the dead of night, hours before I was to meet my brother again.
A man who was not a man met me and we wrestled. There was no time for talk. There was no room for clever schemes or prepared deception. We fought and I could find no advantage. There was no insight; no measured words of diplomacy or charm, and all my weapons were stripped away to sweat and desperation. There was no agenda, only the moment. And I threw myself headlong into pure struggle.
It was the most honest moment of my life.
Minutes turned into hours as the spiritual weight of the moment crushed my heart into dust. The uncertainty of my fate at the strong, heavy hands of my brother had left me weary to the point of exhaustion. The man kept coming, and nothing I did could fend him off.
Then he touched my hip and I buckled. I literally felt the internal working of my bone and sinew wrench violently out of place. It felt like unraveling and my vision went white with the effort, but I held on. I held until the whole world faded into a single purpose and everything else faded away. I was not giving up, no matter what.
And just like that, it was over. I knew I was in the presence of God.
Filled with power, he spoke to me a blessing and gave me my true name. As the day broke into light, I was born again. The grasping and dishonesty of my old life faded with the dew. I named the place Face of God, for I had met Him and in His presence He spared my life.
When I went out to meet Esau, I met him with a limp.
He had forgiven me for the things I had done. Oddly, it was good to see my brother. It was good to put that chapter of my life to rest in resolution.
My life was different after that and I strove to be a man worthy of the name He had given. Those days of sifting left a mark on my soul and a change in my ability to walk as a reminder. The lesson was simple, but it took me a lifetime to learn: Desperately grasp onto the blessing of God, in humility, in integrity and in the fullness of His truth.
My real inheritance and my true name came not through scheming but through perseverance and simple faith that hangs on even when it hurts.
"But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." The man asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered.
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome" (Genesis 32:26b-28).
When you're young, no one tells you what it's like to be old.
The most alarming thing is how much pain you experience on a daily basis. Your days are filled with a backdrop of little pains and larger pains, from old injuries and the stress of life compounded by your strength now slowly fading. The pain of the soul can add up as well. For God doesn't see as we do and sometimes He works His will despite our intention and the misunderstanding of His plan. Blessed be the Lord, whose grace is not limited by the shortsighted vision of blind old men.
I would have chosen Esau.
That fateful morning I woke in a horrible mood, back and legs aching and from a night that was far from restful. My dim eyes were failing (like the rest of me), and I needed to pass our family legacy to my son. We were called to be a nation, increasing in power and influence until all the world would be blessed through us. It was a weighty burden I had inherited from my father. My son would inherit it from me. It was time to pass this torch to the next generation and wait for my final rest to come.
Calling Esau into my room, I asked him to hunt and prepare a feast to honor the occasion. Though my appetite was fading, I wanted to experience a moment of good life again. I longed to sit before the freshly prepared meal that was the result of a day spent hunting. I wanted to recapture a moment of youth through memory and the prowess of my favorite son. He readily agreed, not realizing the weight of what I was asking.
The early part of our day waned, and I napped a bit before hearing him return.
The aroma of the meal was wonderful, but as we spoke something was amiss. Esau was never one to be talkative, but he seemed even more reticent than usual. My eyes only able to make out the shape of him, I asked him to come near and allow me to touch him ... and he did. With my son before me, I felt the Spirit of God moving and the blessing rose from my heart into the late morning air:
Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field the Lord has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.
It was only later that I learned how I had been deceived.
I was furious, but even in the midst of emotion and realization I knew God was at work. He was turning me even as it was happening. Even in anger, I knew the blessing to Jacob must remain given. I hated this. And the same time, I was grateful that sometimes God uses us in spite of ourselves.
It wasn't right what Jacob did. He will pay a high price for his choices. But his desire was for the blessing of God and his heart was after the things that heaven wanted. It doesn't excuse his deception, but I was blind in my own planning and preferences, instead of seeking what God was doing. Jacob was a prince, and the dimness of my vision wasn't just physical.
I was looking as men do, at the strength we can easily see. In contrast, God sees clearly, looking at the heart and honoring those who seek Him with everything. It's humbling when your own schemes are frustrated because you didn't discern God's working. It's a bitter thing to know that there are times when He works around you, instead of through you. It isn't easy, but have the character to admit you are wrong and move back into step with Him.
Trust God. Trust in His genius. Trust Him more than your own senses or ability to plan. Be flexible when He upends your strategy unexpectedly and change to meet His course.
You'll find a blessing that expands to generations.
"May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendents the blessing given to Abraham ..." (A Blessing from Isaac to Jacob, Genesis 28:3-4a).
Some stories don't have a beautiful ending.
I can still feel the angels' hands pulling us urgently out of the city. They told us to never look back. They told us!
In a moment, the shape of my life twisted. I no longer had a loving wife to grow old with me. I wouldn't get to lay her to rest in a cave, adorned by flowers and incense and song. She was pulled from my side on the day of His judgment, without honor and without appeal. The salt from my tears is a stinging reminder of her turning away from God to look back. She turned away from us as well, from my daughters and me. That horrible moment is burned in my memory forever.
Even then, the divine hands of the supernatural gripped me tightly, strengthening me beyond my ability to bear it. It was firm but loving in an understanding kindness that swept us along, step upon step to safety. But she was still lost to me.
We didn't have the child of promise. My daughters are far from God and drifting. I don't know if that will ever change. They were widowed that day, too. My sorrow is like the stars in the sky and the sand beside the sea, thoughts of sadness without number.
My story is not one of success or greatness or legacy. My children are not the stuff God will use to build the nations. My story is the sad tale of an average man who is steadfast and wholly committed to God. In spite of faith, my days here will end in heartbreak and sorrow. I would give almost anything to have Abraham's story, to have the tragedy averted in the last moment as God brings provision and blessing. To have the circumstances reversed and the one who loses everything finds God's blessing and provision and power.
For me, that isn't how it was written.
My men have left me for better work. My flocks have dwindled. My wife is gone. My daughters executed an evil scheme to get what they wanted, though I don't remember it.
My palace is a forgotten cave, secluded and alone and here is where I die. I have been faithful to God, but my story is one of the hardest lessons of all.
I grieve my loss and my family, but you must know that I don't grieve as one who has no hope. I trust Him. And I will continue to trust Him. Do you understand why?
Abraham told me of the conversation he had with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, after it was all over.
What if there are 50 righteous people?
What if there are 10 righteous people?
And if He didn't say it, I still think God's heart was clear enough.
What if there is one righteous person?
That person was me.
God sent angels to rescue my family and me. In the Day of Judgment and destruction, He sent us help from heaven itself. It wasn't just for Abraham; God came because of His love for me.
He loves me.
He loves me as much as He loves Abraham. When I lie with my fathers and these eyes close for good, I will stand on the shores of eternity with my uncle at my side... and I will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That doesn't make it easy, but it does give me hope.
Some stories don't have a beautiful ending.
Don't lose heart. Some stories are finally beautiful, but their beauty lies beyond the chapter of what we know, told in His words, beyond what we can see.
"So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe ..." (Genesis 19:29a).
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.