Both/And Family

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“I’m Over It!” (Or Not)

"I'm Over It!" (Or, Not) [CaD Gen 41] Wayfarer

Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
Genesis 41:51 (NIV)

I was directing a play many years ago. As the director, I asked my actors to do a study of their characters. I gave them specific questions to answer about their character’s life and background. Through my studies and acting experiences, I found this to be an invaluable tool in taking performance to a higher level. Few actors, especially in community theatre, actually followed through in doing these assignments and it’s not like I could make them do it. I watched those who did measurably improve their skills and create some memorable performances.

One of those who did was a lead actor who attacked the character work and wrote some great stuff in a journal. During the rehearsal process, I allowed me to read what had been written about the character. It was thoughtful, detailed, and really, really good. I noticed, however, that there was one thing that was glaringly missing in the character study: There was not a single mention of a father in the character’s life. When I mentioned this, it opened a doorway to a much deeper life conversation. Actors tend to bring all that we are, including our blind spots, to our characters. There was a reason a father was not mentioned in the character study. It was a touchy subject for my actor in real life.

Today’s chapter is a major turning point in Joseph’s story. His life, like Limony Snicket, has been a series of unfortunate events. What Joseph doesn’t know is that each circumstance has been leading him to the fulfillment of the dream he had as a child; The dream that started the chain of unfortunate events. Pharaoh has a dream that plagues him. His cupbearer remembers Joseph interpreting his dream and tells Pharaoh. Pharaoh has Joseph brought to him from prison. God, through Joseph, interprets the dream. Joseph is raised to the position of VP (Vice-Pharaoh) of Egypt.

What struck me in today’s chapter was the fact that Joseph had a son and names him “Mannaseh.” The name sounds like a derivative of the Hebrew word for “forgets,” and Joseph says, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there are some things we never forget and we never really “get over them.” This is especially true of the soul wounds that come from fathers and family. When I read of Joseph saying that he has forgotten the soul wounds of being beaten, almost murdered, and sold into slavery by his own brothers, my own soul cynically cried, “Foul!” When I’ve asked friends with serious father wounds how they’ve dealt with it and they’ve told me, “It doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m over it” it’s never true. In my experience, one never “gets over” a soul wound (especially father wounds). Rather, I have to “get through” it and do the hard work of understanding just how intimately the wound is a part of me. Ignoring it allows it to be a blind spot forever plaguing my journey. Walking through it is the opportunity for it to teach me wisdom.

Despite the joy and redemption that Joseph is feeling with his deliverance, his exalted position, and the birth of a son, Joseph has definitely not forgotten his troubles and his father’s household. God has him on a collision course to face those soul wounds head-on.

And, that’s another thing I’ve observed and experienced along my spiritual journey. Until I consciously walk “through” my soul wounds, address them, process them, and learn from them, they continue to bleed into my life again, and again, and again. I can say “I’m over it” as much as I want, but the honest subtext of that statement is “I’m ignoring it.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Circumstances I Don’t Control

Circumstances I Don't Control (CaD Gen 40) Wayfarer

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
Genesis 40:23 (NIV)

This Sunday, I am giving the final message in a series on the sage words of Ecclesiastes among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. One of the themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that the notion we have any control in this life is an illusion. In fact, the Sage has a Hebrew word for it: hevel (or hebel). It gets translated into English as “vanity” or “meaningless” but its meaning is really more like “smoke” or “vapor.” I can see it. It looks like I should be able to touch it, grab it, or contain it but I can’t.

The continued story of Joseph in today’s chapter is a prime example of life and circumstance being out of our control. Life is not turning out to look anything like he expected. He thought things were comfortable at home being his father’s favorite. Then his brothers sold him into slavery and told their father Joseph was dead. Joseph then became a successful house manager for a powerful Egyptian official, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. In today’s chapter, Joseph successfully interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer who is reinstated to his position. Joseph asks the man to “remember him” and it appears that circumstances are finally in Joseph’s favor.

Alas, no…the restored cupbearer completely forgets Joseph. He continues to languish in the Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit. His circumstances are out of his own control.

As I look back on my own earthly journey, I have so many examples in my own life. A grandmother was run over and was killed by a distracted teen driver. Getting unexpectedly fired. The “perfect job” turned out to be a year of purgatory within a dysfunctionally chaotic system. My marriage fell apart. I was scandalized by wrongful accusations. Family members were diagnosed with cancer. Mom developed Alzheimer’s. And these are just the big items. There as countless small experiences that have affected my circumstances and my life; Circumstances that were unexpected, unforeseen, and completely out of my control.

Meditating on the reality of control being an illusion leads right to where the Sage ends up. It’s futile. It’s like trying to chase the wind or contain the morning fog. It’s all hevel.

But there’s another layer that I have to consider as a follower of Jesus, and this layer redeems the hevel. It’s a parallel reality that we are part of the Great Story, and the Author of Life is a sovereign storyteller.

Once again, Joseph is a prime example. Prior to his life being hijacked by circumstances out of his control, Joseph had a dream. That dream was a foreshadowing of the end of Joseph’s story. Joseph couldn’t see it in the moment. Every hevelish circumstance in Joseph’s experience is leading somewhere that’s known and has been foreshadowed. In the next chapters of the Great Story, God will lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and to the Promised Land. He chooses to appear to them each day as a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s hevel.

God is in the hevel. That’s good news within the out-of-control circumstances of my life.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling hevelish moments along my life journey that seemed out of control. Looking back from my present waypoint on Life’s road, I can see how God used each one to grow me up, teach me, hone me, and lead me to another waypoint a little further up the road and further in my own story. God has always been in the hevel.

I have to believe that Joseph was frustrated, angry, and depressed that the cupbearer forgot him rotting away in his cell. I imagine he felt the futility of his circumstances. He might have even whispered, “It’s all hevel.” What he doesn’t recognize is that he is part of a larger story. The cupbearer will remember him at just the right moment. The rest of the story has yet to be told.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Whispers

Whispers (CaD Gen 39) Wayfarer

From the time [Potiphar] put [Jospeh] in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
Genesis 39:5 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey, about 30 years ago, I became aware of the soul whispers. The whispers are subtle, yet powerful messages whispered into my soul from childhood. The whispers form, and then reinforce, deeply held beliefs about myself, others, and my place in the world. The whispers are typically incongruent with what God says about me. The whispers are typically unhealthy. As I progressed in my journey, I discovered that it is important for me to be aware of the whispers, to identify the messages that are being whispered, and to examine them in the light of God’s Message. I’ve discovered that this is not a one-and-done event, but a perpetual process on my earthly journey.

One of the things I’ve discovered on this chapter-a-day journey is that sometimes it’s God’s Message that reveals my whispers in the quiet. The lyrics of Psalm 119:130 say “the unfolding of your words give light.” Sometimes as I read each morning the “unfolding of God’s words” is like hitting a light switch in my soul, and suddenly I see things in myself that had been previously hidden. Things like the message of a soul whisper.

As I read today’s chapter, I became aware of a pattern. Joseph, the kid brother of Jacob’s sons, had been sold by his brothers into slavery. He ends up being purchased by an Egyptian official named Potiphar. Potiphar recognizes that the Lord’s favor is on Joseph, so he puts Joseph in charge. Joseph gets wrongly accused and ends up in prison, and the warden sees the same thing Potiphar did. The Lord was with Joseph and blessed him, so the warden put Joseph in charge within the prison.

This is not the first time I’ve seen this. Jacob’s uncle Laban repeatedly stated that he could see that the Lord blessed Jacob. He was blessed because of Jacob’s blessing. Abimelek said the same thing about Abraham. He saw God’s blessing on Abraham and wanted to make sure that he got in on the blessing and not on any kind of disfavor. Abimelek, Laban, Potiphar, and the prison warden hooked their wagons to the gravy train of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph’s blessings.

As I became aware of this, the light came on in my soul. There was the whisper staring me in plain sight. It said, “You are only blessed by your association with others God has truly blessed. God’s blessing isn’t yours. You’re simply eating off the gravy train.”

As soon as I saw it in the Light, I knew that it isn’t true. A passage from Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus immediately came to mind:

How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1:3-6 (MSG)

At the same moment, I realized that this whisper has been with me for a very long time. That’s the way the whispers work. They keep reinforcing their unhealthy messages so quietly in my subconscious that I’m deaf to them amidst the din of everyday life.

You’re hopelessly flawed.”
“You’re unworthy.”
The blessings aren’t really yours.”

So, in the quiet of this morning, I find myself realizing that it’s one thing to read and know what the truth is, but it’s another thing to embrace it. God’s Message says that faith is “the evidence of what we do not see.” This morning I’m wondering how long the evidence of the whisper I did not see has hijacked the evidence of what God has been clearly telling me all along.

This is a faith journey. Progress requires this perpetual process of transferring faith in what I believe about myself to faith in the truth of who I am in the light of what Jesus has done for me.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Favoritism

Favoritism (CaD Gen 37) Wayfarer

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.
Genesis 37:3 (NIV)

Years ago I was giving a message and I pointed out that one of the recurring themes of the Great Story is the fact that God continually uses the youngest, the weakest, and the least to be His chosen vessel. We’ve already seen it in all three generations of Abraham’s family. We’ll see the theme again in the likes of David, Solomon, Samuel, Mary, and Jesus’ disciples, After the message, I was asked by a listener if I believed that God plays “favorites,” and that he believed that was exactly what I was saying. It was a question that required far more conversation than the few seconds we had to exchange words. It felt as if my words might have picked at a relational scab.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed many ways that favoritism wreaks havoc on family systems and the individuals within. Favoritism is not only insidious when it’s directly and blatantly practiced by a parent, but I’ve seen it be just as insidious when it is unjustly perceived and projected onto a parent by a child. The larger and more complex the family system (e.g. mix in step-parents and step-siblings), the greater the likelihood for favoritism, or perceived favoritism, germinate and take root.

Jacob (aka Israel) had a family system in which favoritism had already taken root and born fruit. It has been present in three generations of his family. Abraham and Sarah favored Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. I’ve observed that once favoritism is present in a family system, it easily passes down to subsequent generations.

We’re told directly in today’s chapter that Jacob favored Joseph because he was “born to him in old age,” but there’s more to it than that. Jacob loved Rachel and was deceived into marrying Leah as well. I believe that the fact Joseph was the first child born to Rachel added to the mix of Jacob’s favoritism cocktail.

The fascinating thing about it is, God is using Jacob’s favoritism for His own purposes. Joseph’s dreams are a foreshadowing of the very thing God is going to do through Joseph in order to ultimately save his father and brothers.

Does that mean that God plays favorites? My answer to that is no, not in the way we as humans perceive it and experience it. I believe that it’s easy to project onto our Heavenly Father the heart and soul wounds of favoritism we may have experienced in our own family systems. God continued the theme of using the youngest, weakest, and least throughout the Great Story in order to remind me of the truth that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms (and broken families) of this world, in which power, wealth, ability, popularity, influence, status, and fame are highly favored.

Again and again, God reminds me that His Kingdom works differently:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
Matthew 11:25

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:1-3

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But in fact God has placed the [members] in [God’s family], every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one [family member], where would the [family] be? As it is, there are many [family members], but one [family].

The [oldest] cannot say to the [youngest], “I don’t need you!” And the [youngest] cannot say to [another sibling], “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those [members of the family] that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the [members of the family] that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the [members of the family] that [have special needs] are treated with special [treatment], while our presentable [members of the family] need no special treatment. But God has put the [family] together, giving greater honor to the [family members] that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the [family], but that its [members] should have equal concern for each other.

A paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:18-26

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that I have a role to play in God’s Kingdom that is not better or worse than any other. My gifts and callings are an indispensable part of the whole in God’s Kingdom. If I consider them better or worse, more or less favorable than others, then I am mistaking human ways with God’s ways.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Connected

Connected (CaD Gen 36) Wayfarer

This is the account of the family line of Esau (that is, Edom).
Genesis 36:1 (NIV)

A few years ago, Wendy and I participated in a cemetery walk for our local historical society. We have, for many years, portrayed our community’s founding couple (Hendrick Peter and Maria Scholte) at the town’s annual Tulip Festival, and so we were asked to participate in the cemetery walk. Basically, we stood by the gravestones of the couple we were portraying and when people walked by we would share a brief, scripted story about individuals we were portraying. There were other actors in different costumes stationed by gravestones around the cemetery.

While we were waiting between visitors, I began investigating the gravestones within the Scholte family plot. I was shocked to see a name I thought I recognized. When we got home that afternoon I looked it up. Sure enough, a woman buried in the Scholte family plot, Harriett Yeater Vander Linden (see featured photo on this post), was a relative of mine. Why she was buried with the Scholte family is a bit of a mystery. Especially since she wasn’t Dutch, but came from my mother’s side of the family whose ancestors all came from the British Isles. Never in a million years would I have thought I would end up living in this town portraying its founder. Never in a billion years would I have expected to find my own relative buried with his family.

It’s a small world.

Let’s face it, today’s chapter is one of those that is easily skipped over. It’s one of the genealogical records that everyone hates. All the descendants of Esau are seemingly irrelevant to my life. As an amateur historian and genealogist, however, I spent some time this morning thinking about the bigger picture of Esau’s descendants, who became a small nation called Edom.

It begins with twin brothers, Esau and Jacob. Despite Jacob’s deceit, Esau appears to have prospered on his own. In today’s chapter, they seem to have amicably separated. Esau went to an area east and south of the Dead Sea to settle. The descendants of each brother would grow to become their own tribes which, in turn, would eventually become their own nations, Edom and Israel. Later in the Great Story, the two nations will become enemies. They will war with one another. The prophet Obadiah, for example, wrote his prophetic poem specifically against Edom, predicting its destruction as he recalls that the two nations were rooted in a fraternal relationship.

As time went by and the descendants expanded, the connection was lost. Families became enemies.

One thing that has always appealed to me about history and genealogy is that it is about making connections. It’s kind of the opposite of the Israel/Edom effect I just described. As I make connections to people and the past, I learn things and grow in appreciation for others.

Genetic science has proven that we all descended from one woman referred to as “genetic Eve.” The truth is that we are all connected. Feuds, wars, prejudice, and hatred are the fruit of disconnection. When Jesus calls me to bless my enemies and to pray for those who persecute me, I believe He is calling me to make a reconnection. My enemy is my family. Jesus loves and died for my enemy just as He did for me. While the Kingdoms of this world continue to divide, disconnect, separate, and antagonize, Jesus calls me to be an Ambassador of God’s Kingdom where the goal is to be one Body, connected, unified, and loving.

I may not be able to make a difference on a national level, but I can make a difference in my circles of influence each day. The grave of my great-great-aunt Harriett Yeater Vander Linden reminds me: The connections are closer than I imagine.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Exile and Return

Exile and Return (CaD Gen 35) Wayfarer

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
Genesis 35:1 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve discovered along my spiritual journey is that the return is often as important as the destination. In some cases, they turn out to be one and the same.

In today’s chapter, God calls Jacob to return to Bethel which is the place where God first revealed Himself to Jacob. Jacob has been on a journey of exile for over twenty years, and now he has returned to his home and family. At Bethel, God renews the promises made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham. God makes Jacob’s name change to Israel official.

The timing of this is important. Isaac is about to die. Having the birthright and the blessing of the firstborn, God is leading Jacob through a rite of passage. He’s returned from exile to lead the family, and head the family business. Things are about to change in a big way.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back. My spiritual journey has led me on paths of exile and return. I found it to be the path of both wisdom and maturity. In exile, I face trials and struggles that grow me up as I learn essential lessons in faith, patience, perseverance, joy, and hope. The return is the place where those lessons bear fruit. The landscape looks different upon my return. Time may have changed things, but most importantly I have changed. I see old things with new eyes. In exile, I have been refined, honed, broken down, and rebuilt for a purpose. The return is where that purpose eventually comes into focus.

I also found myself meditating on God’s name change for this patriarch-to-be. In exile, Jacob (meaning the deceiver) is transformed into Israel (he wrestled with God). When Jacob left Bethel, everything he had and came from his (and his mother’s) own deceptive cunning and initiative. In exile, he struggled with his Uncle, himself, and with God. He discovers in exile that his blessings come from God and not his, and his family’s, penchant for deception. Jacob left Bethel and went into exile. It was Israel who returned to Bethel ready for the next stage of the journey.

I have found that there are certain spiritual truths that do not change. Among those truths is the necessity of both exile and return.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal”

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal” Wayfarer

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Genesis 34:30-31 (NIV)

As nomadic strangers in the land, the growing tribe of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were constantly holding the tension between two threats. One was that they would be absorbed into one of the local tribes.

Jacob’s family and nomadic herding operation was still a relatively small clan among much larger people groups in the area. Were they to settle in one place and join one of the local city-states, it was likely that they would eventually just be absorbed into that larger local society and be considered part of the Hittites or Perizzites. If this were to happen, they would cease to be the people of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The other threat was hostility. Jacob feared facing Esau with 400 men. There were certainly city-states in the area with similar or greater numbers of fighting men and/or mercenaries. Jacob’s herds, children, and servants made them a target for conquest and plunder.

It is this tension that lurks behind the scenes of the story in today’s chapter. It starts with a powerful, heartsick son of the local ruler who is infatuated with the daughter of Jacob. The English translation says that he “raped” Jacob’s daughter Dinah, but the Hebrew word, šākab, can also mean consensual pre-marital sex. It’s possible that this was a Romeo and Juliet type elopement between two young people who knew that their fathers would never agree to the union. This was quite common in the culture of the day when marriages were arranged for social and economic purposes. Even if Dinah and Shechem were conspiring to force the union, Jacob and his sons would have considered it a shameful and deceitful rape of their daughter/sister.

Shechem’s father tries to redeem the situation by offering to arrange the marriage of Shechem and Dinah complete with a generous bride price, along with a political and economic alliance should Jacob choose to settle down there (threat: absorption).

Without Jacob’s knowledge, Dinah’s brothers arrange a deceitful charade intended to kill all of the local males and take all they have as plunder. Fascinating that deceit has now appeared in the family system in the third generation. First in Rebekah (and her brother Laban), then in Jacob, and now in Simeon and Levi. Like the hot-headed Sonny in The Godfather, Simeon and Levi lead their brothers in committing a violent act of vengeance that would have been considered grossly out of proportion to the wrong that had initially been committed. This only increased the threat of hostility in the area. When other city-states learn of it, those people groups will immediately see Jacob & Sons as a violent threat. That would motivate them to make an alliance with nearby city-states and attack Jacob to both eliminate the threat and plunder his lucrative operation.

The brothers return home with all of the plunder from their conquest. Having killed all the men, all of the women, children, herds, and possessions would have been taken as plunder. The brothers “made off like bandits,” as it were. Jacob chastises his sons for initiating such a reckless plan that only serves to escalate the threats against the family. Amidst the din of plundered livestock, women, and children, their reply was that the violent act of vengeance was justified by the shameful treatment of their sister. In essence: “Hey pop!? This wasn’t business. It was strictly personal.”

In the quiet this morning, I found myself meditating on the tension of absorption and hostility. It was the same tension Jesus spoke to His followers about when calling them to be in the world but not of the world. For three centuries the Jesus movement faced constant hostility as Rome fed them to the lions in the Circus to entertain the masses. Then, almost overnight, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and “the church” was absorbed into the Empire. It became the Empire.

[cue: Vader’s Theme]

Two thousand years later, I find that the same tension exists for me in my own earthly journey. As a follower of Jesus, I am also to be in the world not of it. I believe that, for me, this requires me to think, speak, act, and relate in ways that flow contrary to the ways of this world and the Kingdoms of this World. What does it mean for me to not be absorbed in the world of social media, cancel culture, and political correctness?

During my generation, I’ve witnessed “Christendom” become a “post-Christian” world. Being a follower of Jesus has fallen from favor in popular culture while hostility is on the rise. At least 68 churches in Canada have been burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria. While I am currently insulated from these tragic realities, I can’t help but notice the changes I’ve observed in my lifetime. I can’t help but see the storm clouds on the horizon.

Some mornings I find myself thinking about these big macro thoughts and issues of our world, culture, and society. I always try and end my time in quiet with the question, “What does this mean for me today?” On mornings like today, this is where I tend to end up:

Love God with everything I’ve got.
Love others as I love myself.Keep following.
Keep pressing on one step at a time.
Keep living one day at a time.
Hold the tension.
Forgive.
Be kind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Stuck in a Moment

Stuck in a Moment (CaD Gen 33) Wayfarer

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.
Genesis 33:4 (NIV)

Many years ago I found myself back in the stomping grounds of my youth. It was late at night and I ran into an old friend. I approached to say hello and discovered he had a drink or two too many. I was shocked to find that I was greeted with anger that felt like it was seething to the point of rage. He looked like he was ready to punch me, and the air was filled with violent tension. I quickly backed away and left.

I never forgot that moment.

Ten or so years later I ran into my friend again. Needless to say, my apprehension was high when I saw him. All I could think about was the tension from ten years before. I played it cool and chose not to initiate conversation. Imagine my surprise when my friend walked up to me with a smile, greeted me warmly with a big hug, and initiated a friendly catch-up conversation. It was as if the episode a decade before had ever happened.

That moment came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter and the reunion between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. In this case, it had been 20 years since Jacob fled into exile to escape his brother’s rage. The last thing Jacob remembered was the aftermath of stealing Esau’s blessing and birthright. Esau was spewing anger and vengeance. In yesterday’s chapter, Jacob hears that Esau is on his way with 400 men, and he is clearly anticipating Esau to greet him with the same anger and vengeance he remembered from their last meeting. He carefully devises a plan in anticipation of a violent outcome.

Imagine Jacob’s shock when Esau runs ahead of his 400 men to embrace him, kiss him, and weep at their reunion.

Along my life journey, one of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I have a very active mind, imagination, and inner world. It comes with being an Enneagram Type Four. This is a good thing in all sorts of creative ways. I discovered it to be quite helpful as an actor, allowing me to easily suspend disbelief and live fully in the world of a play behind the fourth wall. At the same time, my active mind can also become a hindrance.

They say, “Time heals all wounds.” Sometimes it’s true, but not if my brain replays that uncomfortable, tense moment with my friend over, and over, and over again. And, I did just that. I couldn’t let it go. It was like relational PTSD. All I had to do was think about it and I was right back in that moment, feeling all of the shock, apprehension, and fear all over again. It makes it hard for me to let things go. Sometimes, I’m unable to emotionally or relationally move forward from a moment. As U2 sings it:

And you are such a fool
To worry like you do
I know it’s tough
And you can never get enough
Of what you don’t really need now
My, oh my
You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And you can’t get out of it

In the quiet this morning, I wondered if Jacob was wired the same way. Paul summed up his letter to Jesus’ followers in Philippi by telling them:

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I’ve discovered that doing this often requires me to find the “stop” button in my brain from continuing to repeat whatever mental playlist I have on a continuous loop. I have to force myself to consciously choose a different playlist that fits Paul’s description.

I’ve found that the path of spiritual growth requires me to recognize unhealthy and unproductive ways within myself, and find the self-discipline to address them. In some cases, this is easy. In other cases, it’s an entire spiritual journey all its own.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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