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A Complaint Not A Lament

Stories
Contents
“A Complaint Not A Lament” by Frank Ramirez
“Living Faith” by Peter Andrew Smith


A Complaint Not A Lament
by Frank Ramirez
Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
(Lamentations 1:1)

Nowadays if you shop online and get the wrong item at the wrong price or are in anyway unsatisfied you can usually correct it with a few keystrokes. Or perhaps you brought something home after a shopping trip and found out it was all wrong and had to complain in person when you took it back to the store.

The ultimate step, which can take the most effort, is to write an official letter of complaint. You have to type — or write by hand — your account of the problem. You include your address and their address, and an official description of the item, your complaint, and what you expect the vendor to do about it.

Then you have to fold the paper, stuff it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and drop it in a mailbox then — wait — for your answer.

This is all doable. But imagine having to write your letter by making marks in soft clay, then baking it so it hardens, and sending it by messenger across the miles through enemy territory. Your complaint would have to be important to spend so much energy in the effort.

About 3,800 years ago, around 1750 BC, a man named Nanni lived in Ur, a city of Mesopotamia. Ur was the city from whence Abram travelled with his wife Sarai at God's urging. Anyway, Nanni had a letter of complaint written to a merchant named Ea-nasir had travelled to the Persian Gulf and obtained copper ore to sell at a profit to the people of Ur. Nanni sent his servant Gimil-Sin to collect the copper, but it turned out to be inferior grade of copper ore. SO he sent his representative to Ea-nasir to demand his money back, but Ea-nasir received the emmisary with scorn and sent him back with no cash!

This caused Nanni to write the following letter of complaint, which was preserved on a clay table a couple inches wide and about four and a half inches high. It was written in Akkadian:

When you came, you said to me as follows: "I will give Gimli Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots." You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: "If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!"

What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You along treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe (?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,090 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full.

Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

Hmm… So Nanni owed Ea-nasir a little money. But does that explain why he was given inferior copper. Probably not.

The letter is now in the British Museum. Although it was originally translated by scholar Leo A. Oppenheim and published in a 1967 book of Mesopotamian documents, it recently achieved fame when it went viral on the internet, as the oldest letter of complaint in existence.

This ancient letter is a complaint. The Bible very clearly separates complaints from laments. A psalm of complaint, for instance, is addressed to God with every hope of things changing for the better. But a lament, like a Psalm of Lament or the Book of Lamentations, recognize that the situation cannot be changed. The sadness is shared with others and with God without any expectation that things can be reversed.

Want to know more? This letter originally appeared in Leo A. Oppenheim's 1967 book (now out of print) Letters From Mesopotamia: Official, Business, and Private Letters on Clay Tablets from Two Millennia. More info from various news outlets. Use any search engine.

* * *

Living Faith
by Peter Andrew Smith
2 Timothy 1:1-14

Paul sat on a bench watching the crowds of new students finding their way around the university campus. He wondered if he ever looked that young when he was their age. He certainly remembered feeling that overwhelmed and lost being on his own for the first time.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Megan said as she sat down beside him.

“Just thinking about when I went to university.” Paul smiled at his daughter. “Did your mother get you and Cynthia all settled into your room?”

“Cynthia asked for decorating tips.”

Paul sighed. “I’m glad I found a place to sit.”

“I know waiting is hard but going over possibilities for our room is making Mom so happy.”

“Did you put your best friend up to it?”

Megan shook her head. “No, she seriously cares about coordinating colors.”

“Why?”

Megan shrugged. “I have known her and loved her my whole life but I have no idea why.”

Paul tilted his head to one side. “Are we still talking about your mother or about Cynthia?”

“Does it make any difference?”

“I suppose not.” Paul put his arm around her. “I’m proud of you, Megs. You’re in a good school and have a bright future ahead of you.”

“You and Mom helped me through the rough spots in high school.” Megan looked around. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited and terrified in all my life.”

“Even the first time you went to summer camp?”

“Even then.”

Paul gently kissed her forehead. “You’ll do fine.”

“I hope so.” They sat in silence for a while. “Are you and Mom going to be okay without me at home?”

“I hope so.”

“Seriously.”

“Seriously? I think this is probably as hard for us as it is for you. We’re excited for you to spread your wings and grow into the person you’re becoming. We’re also terrified because we know the dangers and temptations that are out in this world.”

“You’re going to have to trust me,” Megan said. “I’m not a little girl anymore.”

“Hey, I’m your father. You will always be my little girl even when you are running a big law firm fighting for a better world or your own medical practice in some inner city, or whatever it is that you end up doing with your life.” Paul took a breath. “I’m always going to see you as that little girl who I had tea parties with when your mother was at work.”

Megan smiled. “I loved having tea parties with you.”

“Me too,” Paul said. “It seems like just yesterday I buckled you into your car seat and took you to Cynthia’s fourth birthday party.”

“I remember that! It was at the church hall and her mother had done up a whole set of clues for us as games.” Megan squeezed Paul’s hand. “You know you’re not leaving me here alone.”

“I know Cynthia is going to be here with you.”

“More than that.”

Paul tilted his head. “I’m not following,”

“You and Mom are great role models. I’m not just saying that because you’re dropping me off at university and starting to get teary eyed.” Megan wiped his cheek with her hand. “I saw your faith when Mom got sick. I felt your love and prayers surrounding me even at the worst of my teenage years. I understand the life God wants me to lead and know Jesus is with me always.”

“Huh. You can’t even figure out a major.”

“I’m being serious. Faith is why I applied to go to a university away from home even though it scares me. I know God has blessed me with gifts and calls me to go and use them as a Christian no where that leads me. I also know you and Mom will continue to pray for me and will be there for me to lean on until I get my feet underneath me.” Megan waved her hands. “And that’s why I know no matter what major I eventually choose and where God leads me in life that things will be okay. Even in the rough times and the hard times.”

Paul stared at his daughter for a few moments. “How did you ever get so wise?”

“I listened to the wise people in my life.”

Paul hugged her close. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“I suppose I should go get your mother, shouldn’t I?”

“I doubt she will leave if you don’t.”

Paul got up and he and Megan walked into the residence together. As they went up the stairs, Paul prayed that God would care for his little girl even as he thanked God for the blessing she was in their lives.


*****************************************

StoryShare, October 6, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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