Archive for January, 2011

A San Diego native, I have never seen anything like this. I was somewhat comforted Thursday morning when Jaime, a long-time New England resident, conceded that she has never seen this much snow, and wondered out loud if we had unknowingly been transported to Buffalo or perhaps Alaska.

As it turns out, no one in Connecticut has ever seen anything quite like this. The snow began falling again last Wednesday night at the rate of 1-2 inches an hour and by the time the flakes stopped Thursday morning, the 15 inch measurement brought Connecticut’s total accumulation for January to 59.8 inches! The five feet of snow shattered the previous record of 45 inches in the month of January set in 1945, with four days yet to go in the month.

In the midst of the unyielding snow storms, my wife and I have been preparing for the birth of our third child and our first home birth. Our first two children were born at Yale New Haven Hospital, but after Shepard was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital the last time around, we were excited to pursue our longtime goal of a home birth and have the midwives come to us.

Oh, it all seemed so simple at the time we made the decision. Our first two were born on beautiful and warm late summer/early fall days, and the thought of a winter arrival this time around seemed quaint. We would fill our oil tank and run our heaters until our 1910 apartment, sans insulation, reached a temporary but toasty temperature to welcome the child. The labor would occur quickly and without complication and life with three children would get off to a nice start. I would take off at least two weeks after the baby was born to assist both mom and kiddos #1 and #2 with the transition to a family of five. Yep, the plans looked nice all drawn up.

But nothing this time seems to be going according to my plan.

Let’s start with the snow. First snows are always somewhat magical and this month started out in enchanted fashion. The snow was soft and plentiful, floating down in big sparkly flakes. I took Clara out in the middle of a snow shower on the evening of January 7 when the ground was already covered in a blanket of frosty white. We had fun traipsing toward the backyard leaving footsteps in the virgin winter cover.

January 12 was a day to remember as my 28th birthday brought over two feet of snow and a resulting paid day off from work. Granted, I did spend hours outside shoveling ourselves and neighbors out of the overnight snow pack, but it was a good day. Our Maxima was so completely covered by the snow drift that when Clara came out to assist the clean up effort, I was able to help her sled from the roof of the sedan down the windshield and hood of the vehicle and then down the hill into our backyard without ever having the sled touch the surface of my car. Good times. Another highlight was teaching Clara that snow of the fresh white variety is edible and watching her test this out for herself (below).

But then it got messy. First came an ice storm which covered the existing snow walls and landscapes with two solid inches of ice creating a deadly beautiful scene. The ice put a choke hold on the trees and our homes while glistening in the morning sunlight. The added mass of the frozen water began to cause branches to snap off and fall in the roads.  Massive icicles over six feet long attached themselves to our house and were the death of our rain gutter which came crashing down two stories under the weight.

Then the ice was covered over by another two snow showers. As we ran out of places to shovel the snow, I was reminded of my friend Jason Stewart’s recent description of falling snow as relentless beauty. It was that unrelenting nature that helped me welcome age 28 by overworking my rotator cuff from unnatural movement related to repeatedly scooping pounds of snow and catapulting it over my head to the only places the snow could still be piled. By the time this last storm’s carnage was manifest, the snow pile up in our front yard could have buried Yao Ming.

Every intersection has become blind due to the snow barriers and all streets have been narrowed to the width of a single car due to the insurgent precipitation. Perhaps most worrisome to us, should the baby decide to come during one of these storms, would the midwives be able to get to us? I played a decent center field in my day and feel confident about catching the kid, but would prefer not to break out my glove. Even if the storms passed, as our town appears to be under siege from a near-permanent parking ban, will there be a place for the midwives to park upon arrival?

As if the snow is not a formidable enough obstacle, our family has been hit with consistent illness throughout the month. First Shepard and then Clara came down with an RSV-like respiratory infection and we were advised that such an illness contracted by a newborn would likely be an automatic hospitalization for the little one. We began considering splitting the family up postpartum and having Jaime rest and take care of the infant over at Nana’s house while I would take care of the sickly elder siblings in our apartment until the tide of infection should pass. But in between storms, Jaime’s due date of January 21st came and went with no sign or contraction of a baby.

Jaime’s pregnancies with Clara and Shepard both went beyond their “due” dates by a couple days, so we were not alarmed when the 23rd arrived without a baby, but decided it wouldn’t hurt to get a check up with the midwives when the 25th came around without so much as a labor pang. At the exam, Jaime was informed that apparently our due date had been revised to January 26th after the last ultrasound performed by our previous practice, and that in the process of switching to our current midwife/home birth practice this information had somehow not been relayed to us. We were relieved that the baby was not yet “late,” but I admit I was a little perturbed as I had planned my paternity leave off the due date being the 21st and had already begun my limited leave of absence with no child yet in tow. I attempted to get over it and chalked up the miscalculation and mishandling of information to something that must happen when you have three kids and not one (or two) and attempted to embrace my new reality of plans being readily flushed down the toilet in favor of chaos. I reset my anticipation clock and again prepared to wait.

I have been leisurely reading through Ann Lamott’s Traveling Mercies over the past six weeks and have found the title chapter to be especially insightful. In the essay, an acquaintance of Lamott’s is complaining about her recent run of bad luck when she runs into a gentleman who works with the Dalai Lama. The gentleman then shares his perspective that, “when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that it trying to get itself born – and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible.” In light of the incessant blizzards, the relatively serious household illnesses and a miscommunicated due date, I decided that something big and lovely was indeed trying to get itself born. In this case, not much metaphor deciphering was necessary, obviously it is a big and lovely baby. A child in God’s hands, waiting for the right moment to arrive.

I felt strongly this said arrival would occur on Friday the 28th, if not before. Then when contractions did finally begin on the evening of the 28th, I felt certain that our son or daughter would be born on Saturday the 29th at the latest. We took the kids over to Nana’s house for a sleep over, we cleaned and prepared our home (again), we walked on the treadmill at Planet Fitness, we relaxed, we rubbed big toes, we waited and waited. We still are waiting. And the longer we wait, the greater my realization that I have no control here. And perhaps, this, my consistent desire for control, has been the obstacle that needed defeating, above the snowstorms and the illnesses. Perhaps now the baby can be born, perfectly as possible, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

As we were leaving Chili’s this afternoon, Jaime commented, “I cannot believe this is the third time that someone can ask me when my due date is,  and I can tell them yesterday.” Both Clara and Shepard arrived two days after their “due” date, Clara on a Sunday evening and Shepard on a Friday afternoon. Yesterday was the due date for our third child and in anticipating the arrival of kiddo number three, a.k.a. The Player to Be Named Later, I have been reflecting on our first three plus years of parenting.

One of our favorite things to do with the kids is read to them and I thought I would share my top 10 children’s books recommendations (thus far) in Letterman fashion, for anyone looking for a good read to share with your own little ones, grandkids or perhaps to pick up from the library in route to your next babysitting gig. The picks below are my suggestions for kids zero to three and for the most part do not include the stuff you probably loved to read as a kid, but instead are meant to shine light on some possible new favorites.

10.     “Rabbit’s Bedtime” by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace (1999)

Given to us as a gift by Yale New Haven Hospital when Clara was born, we read this book to her every night as an infant; that is, until she grew to love it so much that it became overly-stimulating and had to be removed from the bedtime routine in lieu of watching “Praise Baby” DVDs. Wallace’s construction paper cut-out art is simple yet inventive and makes me wish I had thought of it first. The story follows a typical day in the life of a child and ponders what was good about today.

9.       “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!” by Mo Willems (2003)

One of many great picks introduced to us by Fairy Godmother Wendy, this book is highly interactive as the bus driver gives your child the responsibility of preventing an overly ambitious pigeon from driving his bus. Kids love telling the pigeon “No!” But be careful, the pigeon can be pretty persuasive as evidenced by Clara’s consistent caving when the pigeon offers a bribe of five bucks. I have to admit that I also love attempting to give the pigeon my best Brooklyn accent.

Willems’ illustrations are nothing to boast of, but you have to admire the Sesame Street writer’s persistence as he was repeatedly rejected as a children’s author before publishing this Caldecott Honor book in 2003. Willems has gone on to produce a growing number of titles, but in the ever-important child potty training genre, his “Time to Pee!” is my favorite.

8.       “I Love You The Purplest” by Barbara M. Joosse, illustrated by Mary Whyte (1996)

Joose tells a story of a mom and her two boys who are vying for her love and attention. While spending a day fishing, the mother makes sure to compliment the very different natures and skills of both her sons. When being tucked in, the boys ask, “Who do you love best?” Mom wisely and descriptively answers that she loves one of her sons the bluest and the other the reddest. I think I may have enjoyed this one more than the kids as it does a nice job of describing a parent’s love. Whyte’s watercolor illustrations nicely compliment the tone of the book.

7.       “Henry Hikes to Fitchburg” by D.B. Johnson (2000)

This New England flavored story was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” and is an ode to simplicity. A brown bear named Henry and his friend decide to meet up in Fitchburg, a town 30 miles away. While Henry’s friend spends a few days completing various chores and journeyman tasks in order to earn the train fare, Henry elects to hike the distance, stopping to examine nature and eat wild honey along the way.

The review in Publisher’s Weekly sums up the plot nicely noting that Johnson’s book weighsfast-paced urban existence against an unmaterialistic life in the woods. Both bears make it to Fitchburg, but Henry’s friend wears a blank stare, in contrast to Henry’s bright-eyed, curious gaze.” The review suggests the book for ages 4-8, but it’s hard to argue that an introduction to the value of nature can come too soon. However, should the message prove too complicated, the illustrations are fantastic (I especially enjoy the depiction of Henry rock hopping across the Sudbury River contrasted against his friend carrying wood, as the bears are shown walking in different directions despite moving toward the same overt goal).

6.       “Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair” by Lee Fox, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas (2010)

I’m a sucker for creatively rhymed narratives that are as much fun for parents to read as they are for children to hear and Ella Kazoo fits the bill. Beyond a humorous take on the mom-daughter fight over hair brushing, the book is an undercover study in synonyms including the words mane, tresses, locks, frizz and mop as alternatives for Ella’s hair. Plus, I always like an unexpected turn and when Ella refuses to listen to her mom, her hair then refuses to listen to her and takes on a persona of its own, requiring parent-child collaboration to thwart. Perhaps most importantly, the book maintains its fun upon repeated readings, which won’t be true of all of your children’s favorites.

5.      “Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash” by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott (2002)

Short, simple and constructed with bouncy rhymes, this book details Mrs. Nelly McNosh’s weekly ritual of hanging up her laundry to dry. After the shirts and socks go up, Mrs. McNosh gets a wrong number and hangs up the phone (on the line) followed by hanging all sorts of other things including the mail, a kite, bats (of the flying rodent variety), and her turkey dinner, before finally washing herself and resting at the end of the day laying in a hung up recliner. Little ones love that they are in on the joke, recognizing that these things shouldn’t be hung up outside and that Mrs. McNosh seems to be hanging up everything in reach, including the wildlife. We’ve checked this one out three times from the Wallingford Public Library.

4.      “Hippos Go Berserk” by Sandra Boyton (1977)

When Clara was about to turn one, I stopped by a Barnes & Noble in West Harftord looking for a book or two for birthday presents. I am a slow poke of a shopper, but based on title alone, I knew I had at least one book selected when I spotted a board book version of “Hippos Go Berserk.”

“One hippo all alone, calls two hippos on the phone,” leading to a hippopotamus party of legendary proportions. Even an unknown beast joins the fun and wait staff hippos are hired. When all 45 party animals cram into a small house, “All the hippos go berserk!” The party then dies down and the hippos leave in the order they arrived by means of a Conestoga wagon and a helicopter among other vehicles, until there is once more a solitary hippo living in the memory of the shindig. Constant rhyming makes reading so fun that math-haters will barely notice all of the addition and subtraction knowledge being subconsciously forced upon the children.

3.      “Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story” by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Janie Bynum (2003)

“Porcupining” not only rhymes but the central plot is built on bad puns, so you know it has to be a good book for kids and adults like myself with underdeveloped senses of humor. The story opens with Cushion the porcupine, pining for love inside a petting zoo where there are no other porcupines and everyone else seems to have a mate. A banjo-wielding Cushion decides his best bet is to serenade some of the single ladies of different species. But while his heart is well-intended, Cushion demonstrates why he’s single when he belts out to a sow that although she’s fat he’s still interested and likewise would be willing to get with a beaver gal despite her “bucky” teeth. Predictably rejected, Cushion finally meets up with a hedgehog named Barb with a similar hard-knocks love history and their relationship is on point. Another fun one to read as the narrative includes many of Cushion’s attempts to impress the chicks using his voice, meaning the reader gets to invent the melodies and inflections. I always opt for a good country twang with decent reviews from the kids.

2.     “The Napping House” by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood (1991)

It seems this title is a classic among librarians, but it missed my radar growing up in Southern California. A child and a grandmother are sound asleep and snoring on a dark rainy day as the household pets get in on the snuggle party one by one before a wakeful flea does nap time in and the slumbering characters awake one page at a time. A helpful Amazon review praises the book for being, “cumulative, predictable and engaging.”

Points are awarded for the husband-wife teamwork here, but it must be said that Don Wood’s illustrations are what make this book come alive. In each successive frame, we see the individual animals and people physically moving in the direction the narrative is heading while Mr. Wood brilliantly phases the light into the story with each page turn until “no one now is sleeping”. For extra credit, the setting of the book also appears to be based on the Wood’s actual home as shown in a photo of the couple on the back flap of the book jacket.

1. “Ballyhoo Bay” by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Derek Anderson, (2009)

I can take little credit for finding this book, as I obtained a copy for free inside a Cheerios box a couple years ago. Maybe it’s the overarching theme of social action and environmental protection, or perhaps it’s the combination of my affections for the beach and art, but Ballyhoo Bay takes the cake.

Mira Bella, teaches art classes including “etching and sketching to grannies and kids and undersea sculpture to swordfish and squids.” Beach animals and people alike are working on found trash art, paintings, paper-mâché projects, and penciled self-portraits under Mira Bella’s tutelage until word comes that Ballyhoo Beach is to be developed for penthouse apartments and a casino. Mira Bella builds political resistance as the grannies and sea creatures march on city hall and sway the town council to preserve the beach instead of selling out to the builders. The planned beach art fair is allowed to go on as planned and the sun sets over the ocean and on the book with the exclamation that  “truth is beauty” and “both saved the day.”

Perhaps the most fun book to read in our collection and Anderson’s illustrations cause me to want to call dibs on him in case I get around to my goal of publishing a children’s book. I also love that our Cheerios version of the story is bilingual adding some Spanish flavor to the story and causing me to imagine that despite the protagonist’s strongly Italian name, that the setting is my beloved San Diego.

I was going to include an honorable mention section, but I’d rather hear from you what you have enjoyed reading to your kids and your top picks for best children’s books.

I once read a scholar who advocated that Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” Speech” should be banned in the United States for at least a decade. The scholar argued that the power the civil rights movement led by King had been sterilized by the granting of a state holiday in King’s honor. Surely, there is no greater way to fundamentally alter a revolution than to sanction it with a government stamp of approval (see Constantine and Christianity). The scholar further made a case that King’s message had been distilled to a sound bite of the “Dream” speech and believed that if “I Have a Dream” was temporarily banned, perhaps Americans would actually listen to and read King’s other words. Perhaps the U.S would remember that King was not simply one day on the Washington mall and now a day off, but a prophet in the mold of the Hebrew Bible, standing in the gaps of social injustices affecting not only Black, but Brown, Red, Yellow and White citizens alike who were being oppressed due to their low socioeconomic status, suffering through poverty and losing their sons in Vietnam.

I felt the argument was compelling and had to reconcile my appreciation for Dr. King with the reality that my own awareness of MLK was his “Dream” speech and brief excerpts of his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Wanting to read more of Dr. King, I tracked down a compilation of his sermons entitled “Strength to Love” copyrighted in 1963. The book quickly joined the ranks of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” and Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” as books I never can finish because the information and ideas contained within require copious amounts of time to process and incorporate.

One of the sections of Dr. King’s book I have read repeatedly is a sermon entitled “A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart.” Based on Jesus’ statement, “Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” in Matthew 10:16, the chapter begins the book and beautifully illustrates the plagues of mankind, both in the 60’s and today, while pointing to the character of God and Jesus’ third way teachings on nonviolence for the solution.

Dr. King opens by noting that a “strong man holds in a living blend strongly marked opposites” and acknowledging that men rarely achieve such a balance of opposites, finding it difficult to be simultaneously a realist and an idealist, or humble and self-assertive at the same time. However, the truth remains that “life at its best is a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony” and remarks that “truth is found neither in the thesis nor the antithesis, but in an emergent synthesis which reconciles the two.”

Extremes are rarely useful and most truth cannot be categorized in black and white despite our frequent attempts to do so. This is not to say that absolute truth does not exist, but that from our limited perspective truth is usually discovered in the messy gray of life, even should we refuse to acknowledge it. This is not because God is not clear, but because our own judgment is so frequently clouded. We all readily testify that our enemies are not completely in the right, but often miss that neither are we. Therefore, we also miss the truths that can be learned when we allow our enemies to become our teacher.

Dr. King noted that “Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world… He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. So he said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.” And he gave them a formula for action, ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects.” Dr. King added we must “combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.”

Speaking of the need to embody the tough minded characteristics of the snake, Dr. King stated, “Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s greatest needs? Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” I believe King’s insights nearly fifty years ago remain true as our families, organizations and churches are largely vacant of leaders demonstrating strong critical thinking skills.

In yet another glimpse of the future, Dr. King pointed out that man’s tendency toward being soft minded is seen in the way we cower before and obey the advertising industry, purchasing products based on exposure and perceived status over quality. Dr. King also implicated the press in taking advantage of the gullibility of the public and recognized the sad reality that “Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction.” I shudder to think what the Reverend may have said about our current entertainment-driven “news” media and the ease with which most of us have been herded into opposing political pens and taught to hate the other side without ever evaluating the shepherd’s motives.

Dr. King observed this same lack of serpent tough-mindedness manifests in people’s submission to baseless superstitions and pointed out the root of the soft mind is the fear of change. “The softminded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea.” King acknowledged that this soft minded fear of change often invades religion and causes the church to sometimes reject truth “with a dogmatic passion.” Reverend King noted that some in the church view any historical or literary criticism of the Bible as blasphemous and that such members have revised the Beatitudes to read, “Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God.” Dr. King further argued such ignorance has led to a perceived conflict between science and religion instead of viewing the respective methods as complimentary of each other.

Always advocating for equal rights, Reverend King commented it is the toughminded who examine facts before reaching conclusions and the softminded who are prone to believe that minorities are inferior because they frequently “lag behind in academic, health, and moral standards” rather than recognizing such symptoms as products of discrimination. While Dr. King faced an overt racism in the South, an institutional racism continues to pervade our society, bureaucracy and economy offering different opportunities to folks based on their “pedigree” and appearance.

Dr. King declared that a “nation or a civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” But the success of a nation is not solely based on the “cultivation of a tough mind” as King reminded us that the Gospel “also demands a tender heart.” Dr. King reflected that to be toughminded but hard hearted leaves one “cold and detached” never truly loving and never experiencing the “beauty of friendship, because he is too cold to feel affection for another and is too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. He is an isolated island.” King continued that this tough minded but compassionless soul “gives dollars to a worthwhile charity, but he gives not of his spirit.”

Jesus frequently condemned men of such character and I am ashamed to find myself in this group, perhaps able to think critically, but frequently without an intimate relationship and showing little desire and effort in developing such. Dr. King wrote that to “have serpentlike qualities devoid of dovelike qualities is to be passionless, mean, and selfish” and I have certainly spent a large amount of time in this state. But God is infinitely good and is helping me to move toward the dovelike, slowly but steadily growing in the pattern of a tree, toward combining and bearing these “strongly marked antitheses.” In part, this is why I majored in and now work in social work, hoping that through practice I could become a more empathetic son of the King.

Dr. King pleaded that tough minds and tender hearts must be brought together “if we are to move toward the goal of freedom and justice.” While speaking specifically of racial division a half-century ago, King’s words remain relevant today as he stated we cannot “trade the future of our children for our personal safety and comfort. Moreover, we must learn that passively to accept an unjust system is to cooperate with that system, and thereby to become a participant in its evil.”

However, for MLK, the means and methods in which Christians stand against injustice is just as important as the stand. He did not condone violence but pointed to Christ’s teachings for the motivation to build a non-violent resistance. “Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace.”

Dr. King continued, “Through nonviolent resistance we shall be able to oppose the unjust system and at the same time love the perpetrators of the system. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for full stature as citizens, but may it never be said, my friends, that to gain it we used the inferior methods of falsehood, malice, hate, and violence.”

The Reverend begins to wrap up his sermon by noting that “The greatness of our God lies in the fact that he is both toughminded and tenderhearted… God has two outstretched arms. One is strong enough to surround us with justice, and one is gentle enough to embrace us with grace.” This word imagery reminds me of Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son” in which Rembrandt illustrated the Kingdom’s duality of strength and compassion by depicting the Father with one masculine hand and one feminine hand.

Dr. King proceeded by saying God “is toughminded enough to transcend the world; he is tenderhearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us alone in our agonies and struggles. He seeks us in dark places and suffers with us and for us in our tragic prodigality.”

King ends by proclaiming, “When days grow dark and nights grow dreary, we can be thankful that our God combines in his nature a creative synthesis of love and justice which will lead us through life’s dark valleys and into sunlit pathways of hope and fulfillment.”

Amen.

Last year, I began dwelling on the Biblical theme of light and dark and increasingly became convinced it may be the central literary theme in the Bible as well as the primary metaphor through which we might be able to place this life in context. Living in an entertainment-driven society, this topic takes on highlighted importance as the interaction of light and dark as narrative is ubiquitously recognizable in pop culture and current events. Of course, my meta-awareness of this motif could just be an example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (which occurs after one first learns of a subject and then repeatedly encounters that subject shortly after discovering it).

The January 7, 2011 episode of the Colin McEnroe Show on NPR covered the topic of the planned publishing of a revised version of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which offensive language including the “N” word will be eliminated. McEnroe introduced the show by noting the censorship is troubling and stated “Twain intended for us to pass through darkness to get to the light.”

This came on the heels of the December 22, 2010 NPR Morning Edition segment entitled “Music We Missed This Year.” Highlighted in the piece was 29 year old jazz trumpeter Maurice Brown whose record “Cycle of Love” I purchased after hearing the following:

“Well, The Cycle of Love for me,” he says, “is my interpretation of the different stages we go through on our quest for true happiness, you know?” First, he says, we embrace a big change, and then life goes well. Then we face a choice, he writes, “between light and dark.” Later, we find out we never really had a choice at all. It sounds a little like the musician’s own life.”

I submit this sounds not just like Brown’s life, but a strong summary of Life, yours and mine included. So where does this come from? What does choosing between light and dark mean? These questions inspired the title of this blog and much will be written on the topic. But today, let’s gain some insight from an exegesis of John 18:1-6 (HCSB):

“After Jesus had said these things, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, and He and His disciples went into it. Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with His disciples. So Judas took a company of soldiers and some temple police from the chief priests and the Pharisees and came there with lanterns, torches, and weapons.

Then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to Him, went out and said to them, “Who is it you’re looking for?”

“Jesus the Nazarene,” they answered.

“I am He,” Jesus told them.

Judas, who betrayed Him, was also standing with them. When He told them, “I am He,” they stepped back and fell to the ground.”

John’s narrative of Jesus’ betrayal shadows the story of the betrayal of God in Genesis 3. To begin, both scenes are placed in gardens in which God often meets with man. In Genesis 3, God seeks out Adam and Eve in the wake of their sin and God asks “Where are you?”. In John 18, it is now Adam and Eve’s descendants seeking out God. Yet, where Adam and Eve hid from God out of their shame in the Genesis account, Jesus, whom John clearly and repeatedly identifies as the Light in the first chapter of his Gospel, rises to meet the darkness-filled mob and God is again the first to speak, “Who is it you are looking for?”

There is inescapable irony here, as in the middle of the night, the religious establishment believes themselves to be the bearers of the light. They are literally carrying lanterns and torches in an attempt to shine light on their perception of Jesus as an evil and dangerous blasphemer. But Jesus did not hide, and when he answers “Ego eimi” in the Greek or literally “I am”, all the power and light of the burning bush in Exodus 3:14 is brought forth and the apex of human history is underway as the Christ has resolved to officially fulfill his mission to meet the darkness in mankind and overcome it (John 1:5).

In the Old Testament context, to name something or someone was to gain control over it, so God giving his name in Exodus 3:14 to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” tells us as the reader a little something about Who is in control. Jesus clearly invokes that Exodus interaction here, answering, “I am”, but does so with a twist as He simultaneously announces His authority and yet will allow Himself to be captured, thus indicating the Passion to follow is indeed His plan.

I have always been fascinated that Jesus’ statement “I am” was so powerful that it knocked the soldiers backward onto the ground. However, I have also been curious why such a strong image would be left out of the synoptic Gospel accounts if true, especially since Mark seems to have geared his entire account to show the power of the Messiah. Like your mom told you, good things come to those who wait, and I love when God illuminates a Scripture through illustration years after I first pose Him a question.

Last Friday, Shepard the early riser made a foray into our bed before sunrise. The young man appeared to think himself wide awake and was thus climbing all over my head as I attempted to wake myself. At seventeen months old, my son is fascinated with the two small IKEA lights that are screwed into the wall above our bed and was using my nose as a stepping stool in an effort to turn those lights on. Not desiring any more feet to face interaction, I decided to help him out and sat up to turn on the master switch. I flicked the lights on without considering the ramifications and like dual laser beams, light shot directly into the little guy’s face. He immediately crumpled into the fetal position and dove under the covers. Quite simply, the transition from dark to light came too quickly and powerfully for him to adjust to while remaining standing and inadvertently I received a visual of what Saul must have looked like on the road to Damascus when he met the Light in Acts 9:3-4.

Given John’s obsession with the Light/Dark theme in his Gospel, I don’t believe it an accident that he alone includes this fact as I believe he is attempting to show the moment when the soldiers own darkness is exposed. Just like Shepard, who quickly recovered and giggled in awe at the power of the light but stood right back up to face it, the mob stands back up to Jesus and continues with their mission. And just like Shepard believed himself to be awake before being blasted with the light, the soldiers’ own physicality betrayed their self-perception of being alert and righteous men.

Even more amazing is that immediately prior to the events in John 18:1-6, the Synoptic accounts (Luke 22:40-46 for example) tell us that Jesus’ disciples actually were sleeping. This sets up an incredible juxtaposition, as Jesus finds Himself between His own physically asleep disciples and the spiritually asleep mob. Both parties have failed Him as their Creator, and the only thing distinguishing the disciples from the soldiers is their knowledge of their fallen state in relationship to the Lord. Jesus then simultaneously and briefly like the Green Flash became the Sunset for his Disciples and the Sunrise for all humanity moving from the spiritually enlightened to the spiritually dark and void, a bookend to the Creation Story and a fulfillment of the prophecies about Him.

Where in Genesis 1:4, God originally separated the light from the darkness, the true light now had fully come into the darkness of the world as outlined in John 1:4-5, 9-11. Additionally, while we often search the Scriptures for Jesus as both the literal and symbolic fulfillment of the Scriptures foreshadowing the Messiah, it seems to have been overlooked that the soldiers’ actions in John 18:6 may be a literal fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy upon seeing the infant Jesus in Luke 2:28-35 when he speaks that the child would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” and that He was destined to “cause the fall and rise of many in Israel.”

The Biblical narrative of Jesus Christ does appear to intend for us to pass through the darkness to the Light. While we have an option in how we respond to God, it appears Maurice Brown may be right in that there is no choice to get away from Him. Regardless of whether we hide from Him or seek Him out with less than upstanding intentions, He is there to encounter us, to ask us where we are, and to prompt us with the question of who it is we are looking to for fulfillment.

In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” The Light is here. It’s time to get up. Lord, help me get up.