Mind the Gap: “Recreation”

It’s Spring!! The death of Winter gives way to the new Life of Spring!! As I take a blogging break, my soulmate Wendy suggested that I send out some links for regular readers to access while I’m away. So, be sure to say a “thank you” to Wendy. Here are ten chapter-a-day links, tagged “recreation” for you to enjoy while I’m away. Back on May Day!:

Destruction and Redemption (Gen 7)

Of Layers and Flow

Freedom to Do What I Ought

Out With the Old: Embracing the New



The “Good Stuff”

Cautious with Judgment; Generous with Love

Hosea 7

Beliefs and Business

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

The Latest: Holidays 2022

I’m still catching up on the Vander Well events of this past year. It’s time to revisit the holidays. I mentioned in the Autumn post that my folks moved into Wesley Life’s Pella Manor in October. One of the major reasons for the move to Pella and into the Wesley Life senior living community was so that my mother could move into Memory Care when a bed was available. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. My dad had lovingly and dutifully cared for her despite his own major health issues, but it was time for her to get the round-the-clock care she needed.

God’s timing is always perfect. A Memory Care room at the Cottages came available and Mom moved in the day before Thanksgiving. I will always remember this Thanksgiving as the last holiday that Mom celebrated with us in our home. We didn’t realize at the time that this year would be the final holiday season we would celebrate with Mom here on earth.

With all the physical, mental, and emotional labor of moving Mom into Memory Care, Thanksgiving Day itself ended up being a very quiet affair this year. Dad picked Mom up from her room and brought her over to our house. I must confess that Wendy and I made the executive decision to buy a warm-and-serve Thanksgiving Dinner from our local Hy-Vee, and I am so glad we did. It was so easy and so delicious. After dinner, we settled into the living room to watch football. I will always remember sitting there next to Mom holding her hand as she faded in and out. It’s one of those precious memories that my brain stores in a special mental file. Wendy’s folks stopped by for a visit after having dinner with the Vander Hart crew.

The Scotland crew was with us for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year’s before they headed back to the UK. Milo celebrated his 5th birthday while they were here and it was Sylvie’s first visit to the USA. The season held lots of events. There were gatherings with friends, our niece Anya’s birthday party, Pella’s wonderful holiday Kerstmarket, and family visits to the Cottages to see Grandma Jeanne. We got Madison and Garrett home for just a couple of days but they were here on Christmas Day and we made the most of it. It was so much fun to wake up on Christmas morning with all the kids and grandkids in the house. Wendy made her famous Christmas breakfast with Cinnabon cinnamon rolls. Dad, my brother Tim and his wife Kumi, and Wendy’s folks all paid a visit in the afternoon. Wendy put out her (now traditional) Christmas charcuterie spread for people to enjoy all afternoon. The Vander Well Pub hosted our 2nd Family Christmas Cocktail contest.

Since Papa Dean was now in Pella, our kids requested an old Vander Well family treat: eireflensjes, which is basically the Dutch version of a crepe. We made the most of having our grandkids that week. I took Milo to Smash Park for a little lunch and game of Connect Four. New Year’s Eve was our 17th wedding anniversary. We celebrated with having our friends over for an evening in the Vander Well pub. On New Year’s Day we capped off the holidays with another family tradition: the Vikings-Packers grudge match with my Packer-loving nephew Sam and his amazing Viking-loving wife Lydia. It turned into a whole family gathering which was fun. The Vikings lost, which was not fun.

The Pertinent Question

The Pertinent Question (CaD Jer 18) Wayfarer

When our daughter, Taylor was young we did a father-daughter pottery class at the Des Moines Art Center. It was a lot of fun to go into the potter’s studio once a week to learn different techniques and to learn how pottery is done. As a final project, I made a cigar ashtray for a friend that looked like ancient ruins. Taylor, meanwhile, molded out of clay what looked like a taco and some potato olés. It was awesome.

In today’s chapter, God sends Jeremiah to the local potter’s studio to watch the man work. Doing so, Jerry watches the potter at his wheel molding the clay. It became marred in the potter’s hands. This is easy to do. I learned from trying the potter’s wheel in our class. Once you start losing control of the clay, things quickly fall apart. You have to stop, crush the clay back into a lump, and start over.

That was the simple metaphor that God wanted Jeremiah to see and use. God is the Potter. The Hebrew people are His clay. Their hard-hearted spiritual defiance marred them in the potter’s hand. So, God was going to spiritually crush them back into a lump by sending them into captivity and exile in Babylon, and then bring them back to start fresh.

As I pondered this simple metaphor in the quiet this morning, I remembered something from that pottery class over twenty years ago. The instructors had to take strict care of the clay we were using to make sure that it was pliable and usable. If it was stored at the wrong temperature and humidity, or if it was left out to dry, then even that lump could not be successfully used on the wheel or in the potter’s hand.

This is where the mystery of God’s will and my will finds its tension. God may want to mold me a certain way, but if I remain oppositionally defiant and hard-hearted, then there’s only so much that the Potter can do with me. This is why Jesus told those who were considering following Him, “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow.” Jesus succeeded in defeating sin, death, and the grave by being pliable clay in God the Father’s hands. “Not my will, but yours,” Jesus said to the Father on the eve of His torture and execution. He expected the same spiritual pliability, the same surrender of will, from any who would seek to follow.

So the most pertinent question I can ask myself as I prepare to head back out on the journey this morning is not about what God is doing or going to do. And, let’s be honest, isn’t that always the top-of-mind question: “God?! What are you doing?!” The most pertinent question is whether I am willing, my heart open, my spirit pliable, to let God the Potter mold, make, and fashion me into whatever He wills for His glory?

The words of an old hymn rise in my spirit as I ponder the pertinent question.

Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.
Thou art the Potter. I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, after Thy will.
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way.
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Filled with Thy Spirit ’til all can see,
Christ only, always living in me.

Wouldn’t you know it? I’m kind of hungry for a taco and some potato olés.

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

Scarred Hearts

Scarred Hearts (CaD Jer 17) Wayfarer

“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
    inscribed with a flint point,
on the tablets of their hearts
    and on the horns of their altars.
Even their children remember
    their altars and Asherah poles
beside the spreading trees
    and on the high hills.”

Jeremiah 17:1-2 (NIV)

Wendy and I were sitting in the back row in our usual spot among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Worship was beginning when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

He stood there looking like a lost puppy. Shoulders slumped, head downcast, and his face covered in a thick veneer of shame.

“I’m drunk,” he whispered in my ear, though my olfactory senses picked up on this long before his quaking voice told me.

“I’m glad you’re here,” I responded, placing my arm around his shoulders and pulling him in tight.

I didn’t know this man’s story, but I immediately read his heart. That is a familiar script. It’s just like Hollywood, or the Hallmark Channel who tell the same story over and over again simply switching out names, settings, and actors. I didn’t need to know this man’s particulars. I sensed the story. It’s was a tragedy of life and relationships that had long ago engraved false words of defeat and shame on his heart. He had been self medicating for who knows how long. I didn’t know if he’d already hit rock bottom or if something had scared him enough to know that he was falling fast. His movie eventually ends one of two ways: a dark tragedy, or a tale of redemption.

The people whom the ancient prophet Jeremiah is addressing are not unlike a corporate version of the same storyline. In today’s chapter, Jeremiah reads the false words of defiance and rebellion on their hearts. They had been repeatedly cut-into their hearts for generations like a lost teenager cutting the words of their shame into their flesh with a razor blade. Over time the words become scar tissue that keep building up with increasing hardness.

Jeremiah had watched as King Josiah tried to impose change through institutional legal demand, but Jeremiah observed what I mentioned a week or two ago: Dictates Don’t Change Hearts. In today’s chapter, Jerry notices that it was not just the adults with sin and rebellion carved on their hearts no matter what the King said was legal or illegal. These types of internal messaging get passed down through the generations. Josiah may have destroyed the idols and burned them into ashes, but it didn’t make a lick of difference, even in the hearts of children whose parents had impressed their thoughts and behavior onto their children from the womb.

Behavior modification will never change a scarred heart.

My arm wrapped around my intoxicated friend, I asked him to look around the room as my free hand gestured across the small crowd gathered there. There are a bunch of people in that room who have found themselves a character in basically the same movie, myself included. The script is just a little different from person-to-person. In that room are addicts, ex-cons, liars, cheats, and adulterers whose hearts were hardened and scarred, but then they experienced a personal encounter with Jesus who spiritually performed a cardiac transplant described by Jeremiah’s colleague, Ezekiel:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

As my hand swept over the crowd and described these transplant patients to my new friend, I was aware that there are others who are still trying to do the behavior modification thing. There always will be. The human condition hasn’t changed since the days of Jeremiah. There will always be those who dress up their lives in a religious facade in hopes that no one will notice their scarred heart and the things it leads them to do in the dark when no one is looking. They are in a little bit different movie, but it’s also a well-worn storyline that’s been told a million different ways. The similarity is in the same two endings to which the story leads, tragedy or redemption, dependent on the same choice between heart transplant or not.

“Just keep coming,” I told my friend before praying over him.

He did.

The last time I ran into him he had a smile on his face. He was standing erect. There was life in his eyes and light in his countenance. As we walked together, he shared with me that there had been a change in his life, but I knew it before he said it just as I knew he was drunk that one day before he said it.

The tell-tale signs of a spiritual heart transplant were evident.

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

A Great Day

A Great Day (CaD Jer 16) Wayfarer

“However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but it will be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.
Jeremiah 16:14-15 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoyed a very nice Easter yesterday. It was a gorgeous spring day in Iowa. The temperature was perfect. We opened the house to let the fresh spring breeze gently blow away any remaining winter dust.

We began Easter at worship with our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, which was packed full of both people and energy. Text messages came streaming in from family far and wide including Italy and Mexico. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, announced that she’s pregnant with baby number two. Wendy and I made a bee line for home to host family for a classic midwest Iowa Easter dinner of roast turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet corn, warm rolls fresh from the oven, and green bean casserole. Of course there was cheesecake. Wendy made everyone’s favorite Dutch Letter cheesecake, but I personally chose some warm apple pie with some vanilla ice cream on top. There were eight of us total around the dining room table: Wendy and me, my dad, Wendy’s parents, grandma, along with an uncle and aunt. After our feast we sat in the living room to watch the Cubs lose as everyone nodded off. Americana at its best. It was downright Norman Rockwell-esque.

And, yes, there are leftovers!

After yesterday’s amazing celebration and feast, today’s chapter really resonated. God through the prophet Jeremiah uses three distinct word pictures to communicate to the Hebrew people just how stark the contrast will be when the Babylonians lay siege to the city of Jerusalem. God paints a series of three word pictures of the intimacy of family gatherings. Life’s most intimate moments are family gatherings, weddings, and funerals. Family gathers from far and wide to support, celebrate, mourn, dance, and feast. The ancient prophet paints these pictures of these intimate gatherings we all know, and then points out that in the wake of the coming Babylonian invasion all such normal human experiences will cease to be.

Families will be destroyed by starvation, violence, or separated by captivity and exile. There will be no one left to mourn. There will be no food for feasting. There will be no weddings. There won’t even be funerals because there will be no one left to mourn. The bodies will simply be left lying around. The only feasting will be carrion foul.

It’s a bleak picture to be sure, yet in the quiet this morning it has me meditating on a couple of realities.

The first is the reality that life does not always turn out the way we planned. As much as I may want to assume that my future will be smooth sailing and filled with Norman Rockwell-esque memory making for the rest of my years, there is no guarantee. As I ponder this, it makes me even more grateful for days like yesterday. I never want to take them for granted.

The second reality is that after painting the apocalyptic word pictures of doom, God provides a massive, game-changing “However” followed by a vision of redemption and restoration:

“However, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but it will be said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave their ancestors.

One of the recurring themes of the Great Story is that of this earthly journey being a trek through a series of peaks and valleys. Even in the famous 23rd psalm I start with the Shepherd in lush mountain pastures, traverse the “valley of the shadow of death” and end up on the next mountain-top in the “House of the Lord.”

God reminds His people through Jeremiah that 1) tough times are coming in consequence of their own poor choices and hard hearts but 2) this will teach them spiritual lessons that need to be learned and that eventually 3) God’s road of life will one day bring them back home much wiser and more grateful to be redeemed and restored.

I’m even more grateful for yesterday’s Easter celebration after meditating on this morning’s chapter. I’ll be extra thankful when I ask God’s blessing on the leftovers! 😉

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

Learning the Lesson (or Not)

Then the Lord said to me: “Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!”
Jeremiah 15:1 (NIV)

I was really struggling with my current waypoint on this life journey. I knew where God had led me and was continuing to lead me but I didn’t want it. At least, I was afraid of it for all sorts of reasons. I wanted to run away.

One Sunday morning we were among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. Every week there are people available to pray with and over those whoever needs it. I thought about going up for prayer, but was fighting with myself internally about doing so. Then, ironically, Wendy leaned over and whispered in my ear that she thought I should go up for prayer.

As my spiritual sister was praying over me, her hand on my heart, she suddenly just stopped praying. She was quiet and said nothing for a long moment. She then told me that, in her mind’s eye, she had been given an image of me as a little boy. “It’s like the first day of school and you know you need to go. You know it’s the right place for you to be, but you’re anxious and afraid and don’t want to be there. Father God just wants you to take His hand. He will walk with you where you need to go.”

I began to weep.

You see, what she didn’t know is that when I was a child, on the first day of school, my mom had to take me kicking and screaming into my kindergarten class. In fact, a few minutes into the class I got up, ran out the door and ran all the way home to plead with my mom not to make me go. My kindergarten teacher ran down the sidewalk after me. She was wearing heels. I got the “Walk” sign at the traffic light on the corner. Of course, mom drug me right back to school kicking, screaming, and crying. I recall her having to do so several times in those first weeks.

When I told my dear sister this, and why I was crying, we then shed a few tears together and a hug.

Here I am over 50 years later and I’m spiritually still having to learn the same lesson that I had to physically learn when I was five years old.

The story of God’s relationship with the Hebrew people is, in itself, a word picture of spiritual lessons like the one I just described.

God delivered the Hebrew people from being slaves in Egypt. Working through Moses, God pursued, delivered, provided for and then made a covenant with the Hebrew tribes to be in relationship with them just like a husband and wife make a covenant to be in relationship with one another.

Fast forward about 800 years and the marriage between God and the Hebrews is on the rocks. She’s a serial adulterer constantly breaking covenant and chasing after other gods.

In today’s chapter, God begins with the statement that even if Moses were to stand before Him to plead for the Hebrew people, it wouldn’t not change His mind. He then says “Let them go!”

What did God through Moses repeatedly tell Pharaoh?

“Let my people go!”

Later in the chapter, God says, “I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know.”

The Hebrews had not spiritually learned the lesson that God was trying to physically teach them in their infancy as a nation. God physically freed them from slavery in Egypt only to have the Hebrews spiritually give themselves over to be slaves of sin and idolatry. The consequences? Back to physical slavery in Babylon to learn the lesson that wasn’t learned 800 years earlier.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of an observation I’ve repeatedly made along my spiritual journey. God doesn’t work like the American educational system in which you keep moving up a grade whether or not you actually learned anything during the school year. In God’s Kingdom system, I have to actually learn the lesson before I get to move up to the next level of spiritual maturity. Jesus expressed frustration with His disciples regularly. “Where is your faith?” He would ask along with “Why are you so afraid?” When those same disciples couldn’t drive the demon out of a boy, Jesus responded, “You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?”

When Paul wrote the believers in Corinth he complained that they should have spiritually matured to eating solid food, but they were spiritually still bottle feeding on milk. It’s possible, he implies, for people to remain spiritual babes sucking on the bottle and never graduate to solid food.

It’s possible for the Hebrews to have never learned the spiritual lessons of God’s very real deliverance, protection, and provision during the Exodus.

It’s possible for me to have not learned the very real lesson of kindergarten and to be spiritually afraid and anxious of where I know I need to go and am being led by God’s hand.

In the quiet this morning, I enter this Good Friday mindful of Jesus going where He needed to go, led by the Father’s hand. I’m equally mindful of the reality that it is possible for me to be freed and delivered from my enslavement to sin, only to willingly allow myself to be enslaved once more. And God will let me enslave myself just as He let the Hebrews enslave themselves, if I fail to learn the lesson.

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

What I Want to Hear

What I Want to Hear (CaD Jer 14) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. Therefore this is what the Lord says about the prophets who are prophesying in my name: I did not send them, yet they are saying, ‘No sword or famine will touch this land.’ Those same prophets will perish by sword and famine.
Jeremiah 14:14-15 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah describes a drought that struck sometime in his prophetic ministry. No one knows when this was, but drought is a periodic reality in that area of the world, just as it is here in Iowa.

What intrigued me about Jerry’s conversation with God was his description of all the other prophets who, claiming to speak in God’s name, continued to tell everyone that every little thing was going to be alright, that the drought would not lead to famine nor would the Babylonians attack as Jeremiah has repeatedly warned.

It made me meditate on three things this morning:

First, there have always been false prophets like Jeremiah describes. In today’s terms, I’m reminded the name-it-and-claim it preachers of prosperity gospel. Health, wealth, and bullet-proof optimism flow from their lips, telling their donors (they are always asking for money) and followers that God wants to bless them with health and wealth, too. I was in college during the televangelist scandals back in the late 80s. They are still around.

The second thing on which I meditated is the current state of our culture and media. This is my observation, not a political statement. The fact is that news organizations on both sides of the political spectrum have abandoned objective reporting to feed their viewers whatever those viewers political bent happens to be. One of the fascinating things I’ve witnessed coming out of the Covid years are small, independent news and journalism outlets on platforms like Substack. One that Wendy and I have begun reading regularly states openly that they began their site in order to return to journalism that’s about objective reporting of facts. The founders of the site came from one of the most prestigious news outlets in the world and complained of editors demanding that reporters write within the preferred political narrative the editors were pushing. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening on both sides of our cultural divide.

Which leads me to the third thing on which I meditated this morning. False prophets of religion, news, and politics are not going away just as Israel and Iowa will continue to experience periodic droughts as has always been the case. As I chewed on these things in the quiet this morning, I was reminded of Paul’s mentoring words to his young protégé Timothy:

You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food—catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. But you—keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.
1 Timothy 4:3-5 (MSG)

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that life is filled with tragedy and difficulties. It’s also filled will facts and realities that inconveniently refuse to fit into what I want to believe about the world as I desire it to be in the comfortable little box of my personal worldview. Jerry had the difficult job of being the lone voice pointing out the proverbial handwriting on the wall; A message no one wanted to hear. They preferred to have their fancies tickled with false assurances. It was still that way when Paul was mentoring Timothy. It’s still that way today.

I concluded in the quiet this morning that I am on a faith journey as I follow in the steps of Jesus. It is Maundy Thursday as I write these words (the commemoration of Jesus’ final night before His execution) and I’m reminded that the end of Jesus’ earthly journey was not a pleasant one. It’s funny how easy it is for me to believe that it should be different for me than for the One in whose steps I follow. If the world operated perfectly within the comfortable little box of my personal worldview then Jesus would never have had to cry out, “Father, let this cup pass from me” and I would never need faith.

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

The Shaming

The Shaming (CaD Jer 13) Wayfarer

And if you ask yourself,
    “Why has this happened to me?”—
it is because of your many sins
    that your skirts have been torn off
    and your body mistreated.

Jeremiah 13:22 (NIV)

The HBO miniseries Band of Brothers is one of my all-time favorites. Based on the excellent book of the same name by historian Stephen E. Ambrose, it tells the real life stories of the men of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne in World War II. They were one of the most active company’s in the war and had among the highest casualty rates as they fought from the beaches of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge and were the first Allies to capture Hitler’s famed “Eagles Nest” in Austria.

One of the more powerful scenes from the series takes place during the liberation of the Netherlands from the Nazis. The local citizens flood the streets to celebrate, and the men of Easy Company get plenty of hugs and kisses from young Dutch maids. The young infantrymen then witness the public shaming of those young Dutch ladies who had slept with and endeared themselves to their Nazi occupiers. They are pulled into the streets into crowds of their fellow citizens. Their dresses are torn off and their hair cut off as their peers mock them for “prostituting themselves” with the Nazis. It’s a difficult scene to watch.

That scene came to mind, however, as I read today’s chapter. Based on the context of Jeremiah’s words, we can make an educated guess as to the time period of Jeremiah’s message. He says:

Say to the king and to the queen mother,
    “Come down from your thrones,
for your glorious crowns
    will fall from your heads.”

In our recent chapter-a-day trek through 2 Kings, it told of the brief reign King Jehoiachin who ascended the throne at age 18, and his mother Nehushta. It was they whom the conquering Nebuchadnezzar would pull from the throne and carry into exile in 597 B.C. This, in turn, allows us to put the events Jeremiah describes in today’s chapter into context.

Jeremiah’s ascension to prominence happened during the reign of the reformer King Josiah, who I wrote about on Monday. My post that day pointed out that government dictates don’t change hearts. As evidence, history records that as soon as Josiah died, his successors immediately reversed Josiah’s reforms. Idolatry was back in business like American breweries after Prohibition. Judah’s kings and people immediately went back to worshipping fertility gods, sleeping with temple prostitutes, and participating in all of the pagan practices that Josiah had attempted to stamp out.

Jeremiah has, therefore, been watching this happen for 12 years as he proclaims the words of today’s prophetic message. He’s watched Josiah’s successors play a game of political appeasement and shifting loyalties between Egypt and Babylon in an effort strike a profitable alliance. In doing so, they “prostitute” themselves in servitude to the empire who will give them the best deal for their submission and political bondage.

Jeremiah’s message is a harsh one. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian conqueror, is angry that the young king’s predecessor had betrayed and embarrassed him by turning against him. Jehoiachin and his mother will be publicly shamed and carried off to Babylon as captives just as Jeremiah has been predicting for years. Twice Jeremiah provides a word picture stating that just as their idolatry was spiritual prostitution against their God, so their captivity and exile is the same as the public shaming of a prostitute.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about standing in the sandals of Jeremiah. It’s easy for me to get sucked into seeing the characters in these stories as black-and-white, good-and-evil caricatures. Jehoiachin and Nehushta are the evil idolators receiving their comeuppance. Jeremiah is the good prophet gloating over the downfall of his antagonists.

But then I think of the scene in Band of Brothers. The scene of these women being publicly shamed was powerfully tragic. It was followed by a scene in which one of the shamed female collaborators stood alone by the side of a road as the Americans drove by on tanks and troop carriers. Her head shaved, her dress in tatters, and her baby (presumably the offspring of a German soldier) in her arms. Tears streamed down her cheeks. The men of Easy Company weren’t laughing. They were sobered and moved by the site. One of them hands her a mess kit so she and her child have something to eat.

In a similar vein, Jeremiah describes his own emotions regarding the impending shaming and exile of his king and people. It is not gloating, or pride, or schadenfreude. It’s grief:

If you do not listen,
    I will weep in secret
    because of your pride;
my eyes will weep bitterly,
    overflowing with tears,
    because the Lord’s flock will be taken captive.

One of the basic tenets of Jesus’ teaching tells me not to worry about the speck in someone’s eye while ignoring the log in my own. I observe in Jeremiah that kind of spirit. He had been mocked, threatened, and persecuted by his own people, the very people who are about to face the harsh realities that Jerry had predicted. The prophet will be vindicated and proved right. But he takes no pleasure in this. In fact, it pains him greatly. There’s a lesson for me in this when I observe the public shaming of others. The truth is that there’s plenty of shaming fodder in my own life.

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

The “Boney Finger”

The "Boney Finger" (CaD Jer 12) Wayfarer

Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?
You have planted them, and they have taken root;
    they grow and bear fruit.
You are always on their lips
    but far from their hearts.

Jeremiah 12:1b-2 (NIV)

Allow me to begin my post this morning with a confession. I’m not the best at picking up after myself. Wendy has often commented that she always knows where I am because I leave a trail of things laying around wherever I’ve been.

There is a lot of truth to what she says.

Along my life journey, I have observed it to be common for individuals to speak of others in broad, extreme generalities. This happens on multiple levels. I see it in the most intimate of interpersonal relationships as Wendy and I will, in our frustration, point out what the other “always” or “never” does whether it is in reference to a self-righteous accolade of what one does (for the other, of course) or pointing out with accusation what the other fails to do (for the accuser). My maternal grandparents used to call this particular form of marital accusation “pointing the boney finger.”

I find this “all-or-nothing” mentality arising regularly in conversation, especially when it comes to religion, politics, and cultural tension. The “boney finger” reaches out to paint a broad swath of humanity (often referred to as “those people”) in the extreme generalities of “always” and “never” or their synonymous counterparts. It hear it from individuals on both sides of various issues. I hear it from politicians on both sides of the aisle. I hear it from media on both sides of the political spectrum.

One of the unique characteristics of Jeremiah’s prophetic writings is the way that he unashamedly voices his complaints to God. While most of the prophets simply record the message God downloaded to them, Jeremiah is having a conversation. He typically doesn’t hold back.

In today’s chapter, Jerry is feeling the heat. In yesterday’s chapter, God reveals to the prophet that the people of a place called Anathoth were threatening to kill him if he didn’t shut his prophetic mouth. He begins today’s chapter with a complaint to God about “all” the faithless prospering and living at ease. He claims that God is “always” on these people’s lips but not in their hearts. Jerry’s solution is a very human one: “God, can you just make them go away.”

God’s response to Jeremiah could not have been heartening to the prophet. He begins by basically saying, “If you think it’s bad now, then fasten your seatbelt. It’s only going to get worse.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I realized that it shouldn’t surprise me that God told Jerry it would get worse. I have observed that the the attitudes and vocabulary of extreme generalities does not serve the cause of reconciliation, peace, or love. Rather, it serves to entrench people in their opposition of others, feed differences between individuals, and reinforce one’s self-righteous contemptuousness and bluster.

Which brings me back to Wendy, the person whom I love most. The attitudes and vocabulary of extreme generalities the we can (and do) throw at one another in our frustration could easily drive a wedge of bitterness and resentment between us. I have observed many spouses who end up in places of alienation as the boney fingers of “always” and “never” point ceaselessly at one another.

The antidote that Wendy and I have found is in learning to meta-communicate. In other words, let’s talk about how we’re talking to each another. In doing so, we have to be willing to step back from the line we have drawn in the relational sand. After a few deep breaths we come to admit that my boney finger accusations are coming out of my own frustration, anger, and resentment. We concede that our “always” and “never” is unfair despite the measure of truth we feel underneath it. We both acknowledge our love for one another and our desire for good for one another and our relationship. At that point, we can typically embrace the desire and commitment to modify our words or behavior for one another.

And, it works because we make sure it works both ways. Whether talking about interpersonal relationships or larger group relationships, I’ve observed that if only one side of the relational equation is expected to learn, communicate, step back, admit, concede, acknowledge, desire, commit, and modify, then any kind of reconciliation and mutually beneficial relationship is doomed. It takes two to Tango.

Which means, you’ll have to excuse me, I have a few things to pick-up before I enter my day! 😉

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