Gonna go theological on this post. So if that kind of thing doesn’t interest you…….
There are two curious, and perhaps, unique to me, things, which I ponder from time to time. The first of these revolves around the thought process of dogs. Clearly they are sentient beings. As animals ago, they’re among the smartest. They seem to clearly posses the capacity for emotion, but they have no language. So, I muse, how does a dog ( or any other animal for that matter) think or conceptualize? I haven’t researched it at all. There’s probably something on the interwebs about it, but I haven’t looked. I’m not sure I really want to know in all honesty, ’cause I like thinking about it. If there is a real, bona fide, reliable, scientific answer to my musing it would cease to be a musing, and I likes my musings. So exactly how are dogs’ thoughts formed without knowing any words? Curious minds want to know. About the same time I began to think of how dogs might think, without words that is, I also acquired another life-long puzzlement.
While still in the midst of my undergrad studies, I had the good pleasure of hearing the King Singers. The King Singers were/are a vocal quartet who are alumni of the King’s College Choir in Cambridge, England. To be honest, I don’t remember much of the concert beyond one song. This song has …hmmm looking for the right phrase……lingered hauntingly in my psyche. To be truthful, I don’t know if the song was part of the concert I attended, but it was on the album I bought in the hallway afterward. (Yes, I said album – a big twelve inch plastic disc that required a thing called a turntable with an arm and a needle) I wish I could tell you the name of the song, but I can’t. I lost the album long ago. I’m not sure how or when, and I can’t even tell you the title of the song. I can’t tell you with any great certainty whether this song was of the medieval period or the renaissance. It was, however, one of those. You might be thinking, “Well… he went to a concert and heard a song (or maybe not, maybe it was on the record he bought), he’s not exactly sure the genre, can’t remember the title and valued it so much that he lost the record anyway. And what on earth does that have to do with how dogs think?” It’s germane because this elusive song was titled something like: Joseph, Wunder Howe Thate My Bey. Now I’ll tell you up front, that’s probably wrong as all get out, but it was a Middle-English title, that when you figured out what was being sung about, would translate something like: “Joseph, wonder how that may be.” The lyrics of this song, which weren’t drawn from scripture, were simply doing with Joseph’s thought process, the same sort of thing I sometimes do with dogs. They lyrics were trying to tell us what Joseph was thinking. Unlike dogs, he had words supplied to him by the lyricist.
So the song was about the Angel and Joseph hashing this thing out. This thing Joseph is thinking through is the real bad 1st century news that his girl friend, Mary (who he was going to marry) had gotten struck pregnant. So the title is sort of the Old/Middle English version of Joseph asking. “Whoa. How’d that happen?” And then there were 14 or 15 verses of Joe and the Angel engaging in a lengthy Q & A session. The lasting thing I have carried with me from that song wasn’t any extra-biblical answer, or even the memory of a beautiful tune, but it did leave me with a second life long musing which is this: Why does the New Testament give us so little on Joseph? I got to know Joseph way better in that song than I ever did in the Bible.
In the New Testament, we hear tons about Jesus’ Mom, Mary. We know she rode a donkey to Bethlehem. We know she was a virgin, that an Angel visited her, that she sang a real cool song after he left, that she had a Cousin Elizabeth. We know she and two other Mary’s were there when Jesus died. We know Jesus was very concerned, at least in John’s telling of things, that she be taken care of. We know she was the one who goaded Jesus into changing water to wine. We know loads about Mary. But Joseph…well…not so much.
All of us raised up in the church know who Joseph was. He was Jesus’ Dad. Well sort of anyway. Beyond that we don’t know too much. We don’t know what he looked like. We don’t know how old he was when he and Mary tied the knot. For that matter, we don’t really know that they ever did. We don’t know if he was kind, or funny, or successful. We don’t know when he died. We don’t know if he knew anything about Jesus beyond the 12 year old stay behind at the temple, talking with the rabbis thing. Almost nothing. We do know, Matthew tells us, that he had a dream where he was told to go ahead and marry Mary. (the subject of that song) We know he had another dream telling him that he, Mary and Baby Jesus better high tail it to Egypt for a while, and we know he was carpenter. That’s what we know, or at least that’s about all I know about him.
Compared to Mary, James, John, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, heck even Zaccheus (he was a wee little man,) it’s like…well…it’s like the father OF OUR LORD (sorta) just has a bit part. Think about it. Mark doesn’t mention Joseph at all. AT ALL. John really doesn’t either. Luke just tells us he was “betrothed” to Mary. Only Matthew gives him any real action part at all, with next to no dialogue. It’s no wonder that my dominant image of Joseph is him standing silently by the manger, leaning on a big stick.
As a man and a Dad myself, this seems sort of lousy treatment. Joseph doesn’t get to do much of anything. He sort of just stands there and watches it (how much and exactly what, we dont know) happen. Perhaps, though, it is all this which is unsaid about him, which is so intriguing to me, and why I feel so drawn to him.
(I’m about to go all existential on ya)
Again, as a man and a Dad, standing here, silently for the most part, seems to be the role to which I find myself relegated. First the “man” part. As a middle age, white, anglo, Jesus – loving, southerner, well let me tell ya what that’s like. Feminists (which I once thought I was since I believe in equality under the law, equal pay for equal work, equal access, etc.) see me as oppressor, and tell me that daily, through countless blogs, newscasts, movies and nearly every other sort of popular media. Non-whites (who don’t know me) see me the same way, tell me that nearly as often, and by the same means as do the feminists. The Academy, with their gender neutral pronoun obsession tacitly call out, “ditto for us.” And the church, and its re-writing Hark the Herald Angels Sing to having said angels sing, “born to raise the folk of earth,” instead of, “born to raise the sons of earth, well ….you get it….maybe.
And, if not an oppressor, well, I’m the stupid one. The big clumsy oaf or awkward geek. Watch any network TV sitcom you’ll see me. I’m the one that can’t figure out how to use the toaster, or I scratch myself inappropriately, I only eat bacon. Heck, they’re surprised I can find my way home every day. For what it’s worth, I do love bacon, and have my moments of inappropriate scratching, but I do know how to act when the curtain goes up. But now, roll southerner in on top of all that. Admittedly, most of this comes from reality TV, who crucify every demographic I think, but for the record: I am clean shaven. I do not live in a swamp. I do not live in a trailer. I do not drive a truck. I go on one or two fishing trips a year. I don’t drink beer. I don’t have a meth lab in the garage. I’ve never taken oxycontin. I don’t grow pot, although that’s becoming enlightened chic. I don’t have a confederate flag. I don’t like NASCAR and am not sure what it stands for other than the “N” is for National and the “SC” is for stock car. I don’t much like country music, and bluegrass for only about 20 minutes. All of this cultural bombardment of who I am, lead to two reactions. One is, I grumble about it with others like me (just so you know, there are many of us.) This, though, is my private reaction, the reaction seen only, and uttered only, in the presence of other middle age white, anglo, Jesus – loving, southerners like me. We dare not speak it in mixed company. (Truth be told this group to which I refer, is not homogenous at all. Few Jesus – lovers, not all white, not all middle-aged, not all southern. They are, though, all male) But it is only in this company that I have heretofore expressed such sentiments.
My second reaction, well….it’s all Joseph. I’m silent. I go to work. I log on to Facebook, to family gatherings, wherever,, and just let the cliched references to me and those like me slide off like water off a duck’s back. And I stand there silently. Like Joseph. Smiling
I suppose I’ve blathered on enough about how tough I have it, enough blather for me anyway. Maybe too much for you. Sorry, you might well feel as though your group, what ever your group may be, is likewise unfairly treated. You may have more cause for self-pity than I. And truth be told, whether or not my assessment of how I think the world treats those like me is correct, I’m doin’ just fine, “Thank You Very Much.” Even though I’ve given a lot of word space to my grievances, in the final analysis they really are just a bunch of “small stuff.” And while I’ve been ranting Joe’s just been there standing, as he always does in my little nativity scene, quiet as a mouse, leaning on a stick, waiting for me to get to what’s really bothering me.
Let me start by saying that I can’t begin to know what Silent Joe had to deal with. I expect though, that our problems, on a day to day comparison, are nothing alike. From what I know of his situation, anti-male sentiment just wasn’t fashionable and probably not tolerated too well. I tend to think 1st century Nazareth, except for the occasional wandering Roman Authority, was a much less diverse society than the large southern US city in which I reside. And since there weren’t TV or movies and the like, well ….he didnt have to deal with all that crap either. Even so, I still really feel a kinship with him for no other reason than he was a Dad.
I’m sure that like me, he did the best he could with Jesus and his other kids. Like me, his best, probably wasn’t all that wonderful some times. From what little we know – and it is precious little – he held a job down, a carpenter. From what I know of 1st century life Joseph probably didn’t have all that many career opportunities. Most likely his Dad had been a carpenter, and I imagine that’s what he expected that his boys would be doing for a living. That’s not so different from me and my girls. I had no expectations that they would follow me into my line of work. I did, though, dream of future wherein they would go to college (and they have) just as I did.. So, at least in that sense, I saw them following in my footsteps. And they have done that.
Now, I’m making a big eisogetical leap here – fancy word for saying I’m making up a part of biblical narrative that really isn’t there – but I just have to think Joe thought all along that Jesus, James and Jude, and any others sons he had, would stay right there in Nazareth with him until he died. I think that’s a fair assumption since professional mobility was crazy hard in those days. Ditto for me. I didnt think the girls would be preachers, but I sure thought they’d never go too far from home. Well guess what. Joe was wrong. His boys went to Jerusalem, we’re told, which might as well been the moon in those days. Guess what again. I was wrong. My oldest is about to head to the west coast for who knows how long – heck, maybe forever. My youngest, well who knows right now? She’s still in college, but you know, depending on who she might marry, well who knows? At any rate, Joe and I have that sort of loss in common. It ain’t an easy thing. Not for me, anyway.
Now the bible never tells us anything more about Joseph, like I said earlier, after that going to the temple incident when Jesus was about 12. So we really don’t know what happened to him. Specifically, we don’t know when he died or any other details about his life. Some folks lived into their seventies and eighties back then, but that was very rare. How many of us would still be around at 50 without antibiotics? How many would be around to 70 without by-pass surgery? So lacking things like that, most folks took the big “dirt nap” by the time they were 40 or so. I can only sort of hope so for Joe, ’cause he’d have probably adjusted to his kids leaving, most of us do I hear, but I know very few parents who’ve had to bury a child. I don’t think I’d get over that. I don’t think Joe would either. I hope he wasn’t around to see how things worked out for his boy. I’m having enough trouble dealing with my daughter moving, and I have an Iphone and Skype and texts and email and airplanes and trains at my disposal. Thank the Good Lord!, but, Oh Sweet Heaven, take me first. Don’t let me live to see either one of them come to their end.
Wow! Sorry for that digression. We were talking about Joseph and him standing there silently – in my nativity scene and during the biblical story. Just quiet. Why even bring him up? That’s the question that comes to mind for me. He’s so insignificant, why even waste what little ink was wasted? Hmmm?
I’ve asked the question so, if you’re still reading, I’ll do my best to answer. Seems to me that the image of a father silently watching over his child is perhaps the most accurate representation of what it is to be a Dad. Sure, we work at out trade to provide sustenance for our kids. We teach them what we can. We try not to damage them too badly, and, when the time comes we let them go to whatever God has planned for them, or whatever they stumble into. All we really want is for them to be happy with their lives. We hope they live a long time. We hope they find a sweet, strong, attractive, intelligent dependable husband (or wife.) We hope they can have wonderful children like we did. Perhaps, on some Freudian level, we also hope they carry a piece of us into the future with them. But we can’t do that for them. They’ve gotta do that like we did. However that was that we did it. So I guess for all of us, since we have no control over anything anyway (especially the lives of others, even our children) silence grounded in faith in God’s plan for everything, including our kids, is the only fatherly portrayal that makes sense. Maybe Joseph is so silent ’cause he figured that out early on. Maybe his faith was stronger than mine. That wouldn’t be hard really. I mean…I believe, but Lord help my unbelief. With that said, I’ll be quiet now and wait and watch, hope for the best, and listen for some Divine direction. If I had a stick to lean on, I’d do that too.