Mara: bitterness

This wrinkly thing below is bitter melon a.k.a. bitter gourd. It tastes awful. (I think so, and I’d eat almost anything digestible.) Bitter melon is actually quite good for your health.

Here’s the story:

She moved to a difference country with her family. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She had no grandchildren, and only her daughters in law were left. A troubled immigrant who had everything taken from her, with reason to bear sorrow.

She said to her daughters-in-law, “My daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.”

When she and one daughter in law arrived back in her home province, she said to those who remembered her and greeted her, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” [passages from Ruth, HCSB]


It would seem that Naomi is a bitter woman because of her bitter life. It would seem that she has had unfortunate things happen to her, and that she is a victim of misfortune. We are, however, informed of a few things that could suggest otherwise. This happens historically in the time of judges ruling Israel, which is a time when men did whatever was right in their own eyes. There was a famine in the land of Judah, possibly a sign of judgment about the wickedness in God’s people, purposed as a wake up call. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, moved their family to Moab, a pagan land far away from people who worshipped God, to escape the hard times. Their sons married women who did not worship God. There’s quite a bit of disobedience and lack of faith and trust amongst the family.

The deaths (and the rumour of food back in Judah) ultimately caused Naomi to return to Judah with Ruth. When Ruth ends up marrying well and bearing a son, there is no record of what Naomi says.


So the LORD’s plans at the juncture of the deaths and returning to Judah appear to be a bitter hand dealt to Naomi. However much of this was her fault is irrelevant; even if Naomi’s personal sin was not a direct cause of this entire bitter fate, Naomi is also not a mere victim. She was bitter, mara, vexed, provoked, annoyed, irritated, angry. Many years earlier, the Israelites had grumbled to Moses about the bitter water, and the LORD’s lack of provision in the desert. They were tested. They discovered that they needed to obey and trust, and not to complain. [Exodus 15:22-27]


At the end of Naomi’s tale, the other women in Judah say to her, “ ‘Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him.” She has nothing to say now but does seem to treasure what God gave her eventually. Her life was bitter for a time, but hindsight is 20/20. You see things so much more clearly as you reflect and look back than while you were in the middle of it; and yet we hold on to the past as if we knew better.

In time, the Lord who is good will provide, ultimately in eternity but also somehow in the land of the living. In the meantime, we must be blind to take unsavoury situations with annoyance, irritability, anger, vexation or bitterness in our hearts. God is at work, and we must keep up with Him, being ready to change our minds, change our behaviour, and change our desires. Not easy for change-resistant breeds like us who think we know better.


James in light of Kony 2012

A few evenings ago, my roommate asked me if I had seen all the posts about Kony on facebook. What? Who?

That’s likely the reaction of most people upon first hearing this name… first, is that a name or a thing? Oh right. Joseph Kony is a Ugandan man wanted for numerous atrocities. There’s a video by the organization called Invisible Children that aims to catch him by making him infamous around the world; they plan to do that by encouraging any and everyone to share it, tweet it, blog it (hm… that would be what I’m doing I suppose)… I won’t link to this video, because not linking is part of my point. You can easily Google/Youtube it yourself.

[Since writing this post, I have watched the video, though I wanted to reflect first before watching it and being ‘swept off my feet’. Scroll down to see thoughts post-viewing.]

I have admittedly not watched it or thought much about it, being of the sort who generally avoids viral internet trends, but I have read a thing or two. First I read this blog post by Tim Challies (, then I followed a link from that post to this one written by Kilama Dennis, a Ugandan survivor of some of those aforementioned atrocities ( Finally, having read those two posts, I was reminded of several parts of the book of James that I studied some months ago.

James 1:19 -21
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

James 1:26-27
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 4:11-12
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 5:7-11
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Now, the caveat here is that you read those two blog posts and at least the passages from James quoted above before reading on. Otherwise, what I say here rather briefly will not be as sensical as intended.

As Kilama Dennis admitted, “the thought of capturing Kony arouses more anger, more pain and feelings of revenge that are unbiblical.” According to James, that would be focusing more on taking justice into our own hands than on showing mercy and love to the “widows and orphans” who were oppressed and are still in despair. That is not to say social justice is unimportant or that capturing Kony would be a bad thing, but that social justice in the sense of showing mercy and giving hope to the oppressed is vastly different from the justice of retribution on the person of Joseph Kony. The important thing is less to capture him and more to show mercy and give support to the oppressed. To quote James verbatim, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” As Dennis points out, justice is not going to be inaugurated by the capture of Kony, for there are many others who are just as bad or worse, but justice on earth occurs if “the oppressed are restored and given living hope.”

Here is one more quote from Dennis that I appreciate. He naturally craves revenge — in his human and sinful nature. But, “Now,” he says, “I realize that revenge is for God, I personally have handed Kony over to God. The gospel of Jesus has helped me over come these feelings, the thought of arresting Kony arouses sin in me, reminds me of how hopeless I am and how people do not understand me.”

So as James says, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

The important matter is not capturing Kony, but making good our concern for the victims by restoring the brokenhearted and giving hope to the hopeless. This does not necessarily mean you need to support these specific Ugandans either! If you are supporting people who are poor/oppressed/hopeless elsewhere, that is just as good. That’s the kind of pure and undefiled religion that James 1:27 speaks of.

——— After watching the video ———

So, I’ve just watched the KONY 2012 video. I think I still stand by this post that I wrote before watching it. I also now understand why it’s “KONY 2012” in capitals with the year: It’s election year in the U.S.

This video is about human triumph. It’s about American triumph. It’s about the American dream, where one regular man can work his way up to make a difference. There are many great things about this video. First, it tries to make people care about something that matters. If Kony is caught, all the children in the LRA and all the children whom he could kidnap will be free. Second, it manipulates our emotions through the clips with the guy’s son and with Jacob to make us care. Third, it shows carefully selected footage and music to motivate us to act and be part of a great cause.

A slight concern I still have with the video is that it generalizes the success over capturing J. Kony to mean ‘saving the world’. Tell me that’s not what you feel in the panoramic shots of the ‘army of peace’ standing united and the plastering of posters all over the city to upbeat music.

The main reason I still stand by my prior post is… Mao Zedong, previous chairman of Communist China. Why? Similar to Kony, but in the 1960s, he brainwashed almost a million Chinese youth, who called themselves Red Guards, to be loyal only to him, and to tattle on parents who weren’t loyal to Mao, or just hadn’t memorized his Little Red Book or hung his picture in their mantleplace. Mao gave these youth whips and had them torturing parents, relatives and anyone else, sometimes killing them, and certainly handing them over to the Chinese Communist Army to then be incarcerated and subjected to brainwashing. One method of torture was to make them kneel on broken glass. Mao is dead now, but the youth who were scarred by this are still scarred. What I am saying, I suppose, is that stopping the tyrant is important, but it’s also easy to forget about those who live in the aftermath of a tyrant’s destruction when the tyrant is gone. Osama Bin Laden has finally been caught, but is the world a much better place, like the rhetoric prior to his capture suggested? No, because Joseph Kony is still out there. After Joseph Kony is caught, will the world be a much better place? No, because the next tyrant is is still out there.

What should we do? I can’t say definitively. I’ll admit that. You could join in the KONY 2012 cause. That wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would be a good thing if your heart is in the right place about it. But don’t go in thinking that it alone will change the world. And don’t be deluded that you will change the world and make it all better. That is for God.

If by this time you still have not read Kilama Dennis’ blog post, you should. ( It’s from the perspective of a Ugandan survivor, not an American middle class man who wants to leave a legacy. It’s humble, and strikes me as the thoughts of a peacemakers who will be blessed, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

More on the topic: [plus a video response]


Thanksgiving Day (Canada) affords some extra time to do things like read past entries in your journal. One particularly stood out to me, and is the least personal or identifying of the ones that stood out, so I will share it here. It just also struck me as a record of God’s prompting. For some reason it sounds unlike my writing voice, but I’ve googled quotes from the entry and haven’t found matches, so I guess it must be my writing.

To preface, I was singing in a musical revue (collection of favourite musical songs put to an original storyline – “A form of theatrical entertainment in which recent events, popular fads, etc., are parodied. Any entertainment featuring skits, dances, and songs.” – from One of the songs was from Mamma Mia, so the words must have been stuck in my head. I might have also borrowed my roommate’s copy of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening to read and quote after she shared a bit with me? Here it is as I wrote it on the day.


Feb 16

Mamma Mia

“I was angry and sad when I knew we were through
I can’t count all the times that I’ve cried over you…”

A song from the musical, VIMH.

Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening (see the entry)

Philippians 4:11

“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Yes, time and distance allows scabs to grow and cover wounds, but Hush, Christian child. Hush the murmur of discontent and take care to cultivate the grace that God has sown in you. We think sometimes that we have learned — it will take more pain before we learn more, and more to be content.

So put away the words “inconsiderate” “wish you were miserable too” “hate” “abandoned” “rejected” “cheated” “deceived” “blame” and more.

hush the murmur.

For you are loved, sought, redeemed, forgiven, shown mercy and grace, rejoiced over with singing, and quieted by his love. *

livid, adj.

Furiously angry

blue with rage?

also defined pale with rage.

Livid because of the Careless.

Careless are Tom Buchanan, Daisy Buchanan, Jordan Baker and the like; so wrapped up in themselves but lavishing the cheap love of a millionaire donating in pennies.

Careless because you smile; not a care in the world.

Even when Tom takes Myrtle as a mistress. Daisy smiles. “Nick. You remind me of a rose, an absolute rose!”

In a careless society, the great Jay Gatsby met his death.

The careless society that shoved everything messy under the rug, smiled, and glittered, leading a glamorous life.

The Roaring Twenties.