In 2011, when Journalist James Foley was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to
Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.
“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home. She responded that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students.
She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?
He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley later wrote.
In 2012, the 40 year old Catholic was abducted again, this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State and which has chosen an ends justify the means approach to creating a warped vision of the Ummah, or Islamic community.
On Tuesday of this week, James Foley was killed.
The man who killed him, said that Foley’s murder was payback for U.S. airstrikes that have helped drive ISIS from strategic cities and infrastructure in northern Iraq.
Journalist Daniel Burke writes, The man in orange, kneeling. The man in black, wielding a knife. One asked God to cross the “cosmic reach of the universe” and soothe his family. The other claimed to kill in the "name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful." …..the contrast between the two religious paths - one led a journalist to cover conflicts, the other a jihadist to create them - is jarring. 
Martin Marty, one of our most insightful living religious historians, observed,
"It's story versus story…and the more you are threatened, the more dramatic and deep the story is going to be."
In our stories, faith easily becomes an excuse for human goals.
ISIS has bombed revered religious sites, murdered hundreds and tortured and enslaved many others – all in the name of building an Islamic state. (Burke)
But faith can also be the reality check that provokes acts of kindness and campassion that reknit broken bonds.
Foley's friends and family say his faith inspired a very different moral course. He organized fundraisers for slain journalists, taught convicts in Chicago to read, and risked his life to tell the stories of people living under the brutal rule of dictators. He was the kind of guy who always offered half his sandwick or cigarette, one friend recalled. The source of his unselfishness was clear, said Foley’s friends. "Jim's faith was something we all agreed not to discuss publicly while he was held in Syria,”
said Max Fisher, “but it was the wellspring of his generosity."
It’s a paradox of modern life - most of human history, actually –
that saints and sinners alike draw from …. religious waters. (Burke)
"It's story versus story," as Marty put it, "and you get rid of the bad ones by telling good ones."
Exodus 1: 8-2:10 is just such a “story vs. story.”
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.
There's been a change in political leadership. With change is the danger or forgetting, forgetting lessons learned, forgetting friendships forged, forgetting what brought hope and life in the past.
He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land."
The king is conflicted, afraid they’ll fight us and afraid they’ll leave.
What do the Egyptians need these Israelites for anyway?
Are they a reminder that the ones who were here first are superior?
Is it because we, oops-the Egyptians, need someone to exercise power over?
Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh.
Are the Israelites needed to drive the economic engine but with their power
firmly kept in check? It looks like defensive action, although no assault has taken place. What choice does the king have?
So far this story reminds me of the run up to WWII in Europe.
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread,
so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.
Is this story starting to sound like the one playing out in the streets with yong black men?
The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites,
and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, "When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live."
But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, "Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?" The midwives said to Pharaoh, "Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them."
The story's words so far have been oppress, dread, ruthless, imposed, bitter, kill.
The words start to change when two new characters come on the scene. Its a pivotal moment. They herd the king but did not obey. To whom do the midwives owe the truth? With clarity in this moment comes salvation. They owe the truth to the one who give life, not the one who oppresses it.
So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."
“Story vs. story.”
One is a story of imploding control.
One a story of expansive hope.
Both contain an element of fear.
Not only, who is feared, but also the quality of fear.
The king fears his neighbors with a dread that surfaces his own lack of security.
The midwives fear God with an awe that inspires.
It looks like a clear cut case of the power of life vs the power of death. I would love to hear Carl Jung's take on the story. There is an element of archetypal male/female power. The male cannot give birth, but that doesn't mean that death is what male power is meant to be about, its archetypal purpose is to protect and sustain. But this king mistakes his power.
The power of the midwives was assisting life and and assisting death, two movements of the Spirit through such similar portals into what is unknown before crossing.
The king tries to force them into a warped choice of life or death.
Friends, we are kings or midwives to each other.
We are able to protect and sustain each other.
We are able to accompany and assist each other on our life journeys and passages.
We are able to the defensive fear that threatens life or the awesome hope that bears life.
It was the king’s choice.
It was the midwives’ choice.
It is our choice.
What story do you want to be part of?
The midwives fit Pat Farrell’s description of “Weeds of Hope”
……in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Hope makes us attentive to signs of the in-breaking of the Reign of God. Jesus describes that coming reign in the parable of the mustard seed…. Though it can also be cultivated, mustard is an invasive plant, essentially a weed…. We can, indeed, live in joyful hope because there is no political or ecclesiastical herbicide that can wipe out the movement of God’s Spirit. Our hope is in the absolutely uncontainable power of God. We who pledge our lives to a radical following of Jesus can expect to be seen as pesky weeds that need to be fenced in. If the weeds of God’s Reign are stomped out in one place they will crop up in another. ( 2012 LCWR Assembly Address)
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist