For Lent this year I have been fasting from Facebook. The first week was rough. Real rough. To compare myself to an addict in rehab sucking nervously on a tootsie pop would have been accurate the first few days. I felt deeply in my gut like something was MISSING. Every morning when I woke up and didn’t wake up to George’s coffee memes. Every time I accomplished a task at work, and then couldn’t reward myself with a peek at Mary’s baby animal pictures. Every time I wondered how so-and-so was doing and didn’t check their profile page. Every time I wanted to post something encouraging, or feel the warmth of my virtual community lifting me up.
When I was curious about how the notorious “DT” was going to forecast the snow storm du jour and relied instead on my Weather Channel app or the local TV station website, I couldn’t trust how much bread and milk to buy. (First world problems?)
So I increased my Candy Crush and was kinda cranky with the kids for about a week. Or three. (Remember, we’ve had a LOT of snow days. Without Facebook. Cut me some slack.) I also reacquainted myself with Pinterest. Glorious Pinterest.
The other day one of my friends referred to it as “food porn.”
“Oh, you look at it for the recipes?” I asked her, silently judging myself for not doing something more productive with my online habits, like cooking for my cranky Facebook-free family. “I guess for me it’s ‘house porn.'” I said. We both laughed. Sort of.
I love searching the Home Decor category. It reminds me of my childhood when my favorite cousin and I would pour over the Sears and Pennys catalogs and make lists of every curtain, rug, towel, and placemat we wanted to purchase for the homes we were designing on graph paper. We’d even write down the prices so we’d know what kind of budget we’d need, all the while listening to Neil Diamond, another of the shared guilty pleasures we couldn’t tell to anyone outside the family, lest the deepest depths of our nerdiness be discovered.
Apparently this practice is now mainstream (minus the Neil Diamond). A lot of you reading this have repinned my pins. Consider yourselves outed, nerds.
I thought I had gotten over the hump. I’m still feeling the Facebook sacrifice but it is no longer an obsession; it’s an accomplishment of which I can be proud. I’m productive, less edgy, focusing more on personal relationships than virtual ones, and relearning how to connect with all of you in a way that doesn’t involve social media.
Patting myself on the back, I started to read this past weekend’s scripture selections with the intent of actually writing a blog post. I couldn’t make it through the first reading. It stopped me up short. It’s the Ten Commandments. When I got to the ninth one, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, I kinda broke the second one.
Yeah, I took the Lord’s name in vain.
Isn’t that what Pinterest is? Coveting? Maybe not for you. Maybe for you it’s “food porn,” which makes it ok. But for me, it’s about seeing all the stuff I wish I could do or have in my house, and creating pin boards dedicated to my categorized coveting. More that 1,500 and counting.
(Not Ryan Gosling. Someone else can covet him and his “hey, girl.” When I start pinning that silly goose, you’ll know I’ve hit bottom. Pour me the Candy Crush Soda, please.)
We tend to think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts from God, or a moral code by which to live. When I read the chapters following Sunday’s first reading selection from Exodus, I learned there were a lot more than just ten “commandments;” there are whole chapters in Exodus dedicated to all the rules set forth by God to govern the conduct of His chosen people.
For example, that whole “eye for eye” thing was instituted to prevent revenge, or taking anything more than was taken from you. It’s fascinating to read all the laws, as long as I keep it in historical and spiritual context; these laws were meant to set the Jewish people apart from their pagan neighbors so they would be a testament to the one true God. The Old Testament Jewish law was never intended, for example, to be used by modern day fundamentalists to justify racism or slavery. As a Christian it is important for me to remember the fullness of the law was expressed in the life of Christ, who said that loving God and loving neighbor were the summation of the whole law and the prophets.
Christ was also the fullest expression of God’s covenant with His people. The Ten Commandments could just as easily have been titled “the ten signs of covenant,” but I believe we humans are much more comfortable with a God of rules than a God of promises. Our egos find it much easier to rebel against and reject God if we think He’s always telling us what to do. After all that’s what Ego does – Edges God Out.
In the chapter preceding the Ten Commandments, God (through Moses) gave the people instructions for preparing themselves to hear God speak to them and make His covenant with them. On the third day, God would descend Mt. Sinai and they would hear His voice. This weekend’s selection is the spoken word of God to His people. They literally heard His voice. Later in Exodus, when the Hebrews were overwhelmed with their inability to follow the rules or presumably remember them, they asked Moses for written Commandments, and God wrote them on stone tablets not once, but twice. Those tablets were placed in the Ark of the Covenant along with the staff of Aaron and a pot of manna, and around this ark the Temple of Jerusalem was ultimately built (and then “cleansed” by Jesus in this weekend’s gospel).
But the first giving of the law was done orally, on the “third day.” It was a promise from God to His people, if they would accept that He alone was God, creator of the universe, and if they would live in the ways He instructed instead of the ways of the world, they would be a sign to the rest of that universe by their actions, and they would be blessed.
Replace the word “shalt ” with “will.” The passage takes on a very different tone:
You will not have other gods besides me or carve idols for yourselves or bow down before them.
You will not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
You will rest on the seventh day, just as your Creator did.
You will honor your mother and father.
You will not kill.
You will not commit adultery.
You will not steal.
You will not lie about your neighbor.
You will not covet your neighbor’s house.
You will not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything else that belongs to him.
Change the “will nots” to “will no longer” and it gets even better.
When we follow the fullness of God’s law (put God first and love your neighbor as yourself), God will transform us from a group of coveting, gossiping, lying, stealing, lustful, life-destroying, disrespectful, prideful, cursing, idolatrous heathens into a people who are known as God’s people by our love.
As a sinner who has broken some of the commandments, sometimes repeatedly, the promise that I could be delivered from my compulsions and especially the consequences that usually follow is a wonderful message of hope. This is the covenant. We will not need the distraction of Pinterest or Facebook because we will be looking for the face of Jesus in everyone we see. We will no longer covet anything, because when we put God first, we will trust He has given us everything we need, and we will be content with that.
The Hebrew people were never content with that for very long, and God in His great compassion knew it. He planned for it in the covenant. Rather than demand perfection from His people, God set forth a process by which they could cleanse themselves from their sin so no one would be prevented from worshipping the Holy of Holies – He set forth rules for animal sacrifice, substitutiary atonement. In Moses’ day, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent, but by the time of Jesus, the Temple in Jerusalem was where the symbol of God’s covenant, and presumably where God Himself, dwelt. The covenant was written so that sinners could still approach their God. (The covenant also wrote a pretty specific rule about lending money to fellow Hebrews and not charging interest.)
When Jesus “cleansed” the temple in this weekend’s Gospel, it was in part because the religious elites were creating obstacles to the atonement process. The reason there were livestock in the temple courtyard was because they were to be the blood sacrifices people would buy to kill and atone for their sins. But the Jewish temple couldn’t accept the Roman currency that everyone used; Jewish people had to exchange their Roman coins for Jewish ones which they could then use to purchase the ox or lamb or doves or whatever other offering they could afford.
Obviously the ox was more expensive than the doves, so the wealthy were able to “atone” for more sins than, say, a poor widow who could afford to give only two coins in offering. And not only had the atonement process become unjust, but the money changers were very likely exchanging Jewish coins at an unfair rate. No wonder Jesus called them a brood of vipers and a den of thieves.
“Give us a sign,” the temple elites demanded after Jesus raged against the layers of injustice condoned and encouraged by the Levites and priests. They would have known the Exodus story intimately, yet they completely missed Jesus’ reference when he told them to destroy the temple (of his body) and he would raise it up on the third day. He used the exact same words his Father had used at Mt. Sinai.
Or, maybe they understood exactly what Jesus was saying, which is why they had him killed.
Jesus offered himself as the final blood sacrifice, once and for all, so that sins could be forgiven. God Himself would be the substitutiary atonement, and there would be no need for any more livestock or temple money exchanges. No one would ever be prevented from worshipping God because they were too poor to be anything but ritually impure. I believe Jesus’ angry expulsion of the money changers foreshadowed how his death and resurrection would expel all the forces that attempt to keep us from worshipping God.
There are money changers our heads. They try to convince us our mistakes are too big to atone for. They tell us there’s no use changing course since we’re already sinners and not likely to have much success changing that Why bother? Why keep setting ourselves up for another moral failure tomorrow by getting “right” with God today?
I accidentally ate bacon bits on my salad on Friday; I may as well order steak for dinner since I’ve already eaten meat once. That’s the logic of my money changers. I’m already a sinner, so I may as well sin big, they say. They have no concern about the guilt I will heap upon myself. Maybe not about eating meat, but definitely about the times I break one of the “big ten.”
God wants to throw the money changers out of our heads. He wants to silence the rigid elites in our hearts, too. Our hearts are His temple, and Christ died to cleanse them. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” he says, and the mercy starts with ourselves. There is no longer anything in the way of my turning to God whenever I need Him; nothing except my Edging God Out.
Coveting must be a pretty serious sin. It’s the subject of not one, but two commandments. That fact is worth contemplation.
What do I covet, and why? Ultimately the answer for me is comfort. I want to be comfortable and secure, and I mistakenly believe a beautifully decorated, perfectly organized home will do that. I believe the same thing of certain clothing, or even friendships and relationships. Coveting – the desire for “more” or “better,” and especially comparing myself to others and measuring myself against near-impossible perfection is not a very spiritually healthy way of life. Like the Israelites eating manna in the desert, I have everything I need, if not everything I want. The secret to happiness is contentment.
In a great twist of irony, I saw a great little article pinned on Pinterest – 10 Ways To Be Happier In Your Own Home.
Many of the tricks, like making my bed daily, keeping a gratitude journal, and displaying sentimental items, are things I do regularly to keep myself from coveting. The final item on the list is connecting with something greater than yourself. I certainly didn’t expect that from a “home decor” blog. It’s a return to the first Commandment – remember who is God, or at the very least, who is not God. It’s a good reminder whenever I struggle with one of the “big ten.”