Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 29:1-14) transports me to the Covenant Class of Crescent Hill Baptist, Louisville, KY in the mid 1980s. It was a Sunday School class of seminary couples, but it existed more for socializing than Bible study, as we got our fill of that in seminary. One of my favorite social activities was a regular weekend viewing of Elvis movies, the cheesier the better. Nothing like letting go of anxiety over Ethics or Church History or Hebrew class with some Goobers and Raisinettes and Viva Las Vegas or Clambake or Roustabout. The only time I found it difficult to suspend disbelief and have fun was in Kissin’ Cousins, the cheapest and worst (in my humble opinion) of all the King’s movies. I was too distracted by all the offensive stereotyping of hillbillies to enjoy the cheesiness of it all. Elvis played two roles: Josh, an Air Force officer sent on a mission back to the hills of Tennessee to convince his moonshining family to sell their mountain to the military for a missile base, and Jodie, his blond lookalike cousin, who is suspicious of outsiders. Of course Elvis the Lieutenant has two busty female cousins competing for his affections and trying to get him to roll in the hay (literally). The only redeeming quality of the movie for me: Lieutenant Elvis chose Yvonne Craig to be the kissin’ cousin, and I had fun imagining her morphing into her Bat Girl role at any time. Other than that, the movie was a real stinker.
Screenwriter Gene Nelson would have come up with a much better plot if he had gone back to Genesis for a kissing cousins storyline. Elvis could have played the smooth man Jacob, outwitting his hairy brother and then hightailing it off to the distant hills to find a wife. Yvonne Craig would have made a great Rachel. However you cast it, though, it’s a great story. It has its own stereotype, as the proverbial watering hole is the tried and true trope, a meeting place where matriarchs and patriarchs first meet. Here, in smooth man Jacob’s case, he adds some zest to the story with a feat of strength, showing off to cousin Rachel by single-handedly removing the large stone from the top of the well and watering her flock. And then, in a love at first sight kind of move, he planted a wet one on his beautiful cousin, and started weeping uncontrollably. She ran home to tell Daddy Laban, who immediately ran back to meet his audacious nephew. Given our modern taboos around family affairs, we might expect this meeting to be a little tense and confrontive, but it’s just the opposite. Laban joined in the kissing, planting one on his nephew. Once Jacob had a chance to catch him up on all the clever shenanigans that had taken place in the family back home, Uncle Laban boldly proclaimed, boy, you really are family, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Perhaps he recognized himself in Jacob’s exploits of conniving and deceit; as the story unfolds we find Laban doing his own share of conniving. In a plot twist that sounds tailor-made for an Elvis movie, Jacob eventually winds up with two cousins competing for his affections (and the scheming Uncle Laban has the smooth man work 14 long years before he and Rachel, the cousin of choice, get to roll in the hay).
One thing I appreciate about the history of the patriarchs and matriarchs in the Hebrew Bible is the inclusion of all these dramatic family details, the twists and turns of plot and character studies that on first glance seem to have little or nothing to do with the grand scheme of salvation history. A romantic rendezvous at the well, an arranged marriage that doesn’t go as arranged, with plenty of plotting and conniving and deceit and a honeymoon surprise. The details are there, I think, to help convince us that God can and does indeed work through our lives, even as they are often filled with dramatic twists and turns and surprises and hardly ever go as planned. As cheesy as it might sound, we can learn to appreciate the grace of the romantic kisses at the well, or wherever the rendezvous point is for us, and trust that these very human encounters just might be providential, as God continues to direct the drama of salvation history in our world.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.