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Prison Blues

Prison Blues (CaD Ps 142) Wayfarer

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.

Psalm 142:7 (NIV)

Thus far in my life journey, I am happy to say that I have avoided prison time, at in the traditional sense of the word. But, in the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about prison in a metaphorical sense. Along life’s road, I’ve found myself imprisoned in different senses of the word. I’ve been imprisoned in circumstances (some of my own making, others not). I have been imprisoned to addictive behaviors and indulgent appetites. There are certain unhealthy patterns of thought from which I had to find freedom. I also have experienced the realization of being unwittingly trapped in systemic roles within family, jobs, or other groups for years, and didn’t even know it.

As I think back on all of these examples, I begin to realize that I have “done time” in different ways.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 142, has a more specific liner note than most of the ancient Hebrew songs in the Psalms anthology. It says that this song was a song of David wrote in a cave. It was a very specific period of time in David’s youth when his predecessor, King Saul, put a price on David’s head. David was on the lam for a long period of time and spent most of it in a wilderness region south of Jerusalem near the Dead Sea. The area is a natural labyrinth of steep hills dotted with caves.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of David’s song in the perspective of his circumstances. A young man, perhaps still a teenager, forced to flee from the most powerful man in the land and all the powerful thugs who could use the bounty on his head. He is completely alone in a desert wilderness within a dark cave struggling to survive.

Sounds like prison to me.

So, David does what he always did in tough circumstances. He sang the blues. He poured out his heart, his hurt, and his longing into the lyrics of a song. As I type this I’m imagining the lone voice of David reverberating in the echo of a cave. If all I heard was the echo of my own voice, I think it would probably only serve to remind me just how alone I really was in the darkness of that cave.

Over the last 2500 years, the Psalms have served as the go-to spiritual pick-me-up for individuals who are experiencing their own personal prison moments. I know I have. There have been very specific moments on life’s road when I went to the Psalms knowing that I could at least find words there to commiserate with the personal prison I was in. The lyrics, like today’s chapter, have given me words for my emotions that my heart just couldn’t find in the moment. They were the prayer that I didn’t know how to muster myself. They reminded me that others have been in personal prisons worse than mine. It has also been encouraging to sing David’s blues and remember that David eventually found his way out of the cave and into the light of better circumstances.

In the quiet this morning, I earmarked Psalm142 so I can quickly find it the next time I need it. 🙂

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 10)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is the final episode of a ten-part series: Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. We wrap up the series with a brief introduction to the ever-intriguing subject of the book of Revelation and the topic of what the Bible has to say about the end times.

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story Part 10 Wayfarer

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 9)

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 9 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of “the epistles” or “letters.”

Click on the following link to listen, or click on the banner below for easy links to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite app.

https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/episodes/WW-Beginners-Guide-to-the-Great-Story-Part-9-el6vrm

A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 8)

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story (Part 8) Wayfarer

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 8 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of the “Gospels” and the Acts of the Apostles.

A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 7)

(WW) Beginner's Guide to the Great Story Part 7 Wayfarer

This week’s Wayfarer Weekend podcast is part 7 of the 10 part series A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story. This week we’re providing an overview of the books of the Prophets and some insight into understanding prophetic text.

Villains, Justice, Wrestling

Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again.
Exodus 11:5-6 (NRSVCE)

The past few months of COVID shut-downs have been strange on a number of levels. For being non-athletic, creative types, Wendy and I both enjoy watching and avidly following certain sports and teams. We also have the shows we avidly watch. It’s been strange to have so little to watch. Not necessarily bad, mind you. I confess we’ve gotten a lot of things done that have been on the task list for way too long. I’m just recognizing how often we look forward to certain games or new episodes of a certain series.

Game of Thrones was a series to which I was late to the party. Wendy had no interest and I didn’t want to pay for HBO or for each year’s series on DVD. It was a ridiculous Black Friday deal for all but the last season on DVD that gave me many wonderful months of binging while on the road for work.

One of the hallmarks of the Game of Thrones series was the quality of the villains. I can’t think of another series with more despicable characters whom I wanted to get their just desserts and (I confess) die in despicable ways. The writers knew how to create characters I loved to hate, and how to keep me as an audience member passionately desiring a villain’s demise so for so long that when the climax finally arrived it was oddly satisfying in somewhat creepy ways.

Today’s chapter is a climactic point in the Exodus story, though I find it easy to lose sight of this fact. I think that it’s a combination of breaking up the narrative in small daily chunks, translating it into English from an ancient language, and the fact that the ancients weren’t exactly George Martin or Stephen King when it comes to crafting the narrative.

The final plague on Pharaoh and Egypt is the death of every Egyptian first-born, which feels rather heinous on the surface of things as we read with the eyes of 21st-century mindset. There are a couple of important parallels in this story which, I can’t allow myself to forget this, is at its heart about an enslaved, oppressed people being freed from their chains.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians have all the earthly power. They have the absolute authority, socio-economic status, and a system completely rigged in their favor. The Hebrews have one respected leader (Moses, who was raised an Egyptian member of Pharaoh’s household) and this mysterious God who has come out of a burning bush to reveal Himself as the One underdog champion of the oppressed Hebrews against over 1500 Egyptian deities.

[cue: Rocky’s Theme]

Pharaoh has just threatened Moses with death, but Moses informs his nemesis that it is his first-born son (always the favored-one in ancient Patriarchal systems) who will die. I believe most parents would say that losing a child is worse than dying yourself. Pharaoh and the God of Moses have already gone nine exhausting rounds. This plague is the knockout punch. At the very beginning of the story, it was established that the Hebrew slaves cried out in their suffering, and God heard their cries. Now, God proclaims through Moses, it will be Pharaoh and the Egyptian oppressors who will “cry out” in their suffering.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about my African-American brothers and sisters. Historically, it’s easy to see why the Exodus story has always resonated with African-Americans. Wendy and I just watched the movie Harriett a few weeks ago. “Grandma Moses” led her people to freedom. The heinous videos of Ahmed Aubrey and George Floyd (a brother in Christ) haunt me. The Moses story will always be relevant in a fallen world where broken earthly systems favor some people and not others.

As I meditate on these things, Jesus’ first recorded message echoes in my spirit:

[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
 

Some mornings my soul is overwhelmed with questions. Like Jacob, I find myself wrestling with God.

Satisfying the Crowd

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
Mark 15:15 (NIV)

Much of our earthly journey is spent satisfying different crowds. We learn to satisfy our parents and family systems when we’re young, and quite commonly find that we’re still unconsciously playing the same familial roles as adults to keep that system satisfied. We modify our behavior as adolescents and young adults to satisfy our peer group(s). The truth is that it’s quite common for us to unwittingly continue the process in our social systems, work systems, and religious systems. We satisfy the crowd in order to fit in, be accepted, and successfully navigate our social world.

My company is all about helping our client companies identify what satisfies and dissatisfies “the crowd” known as their customer base or their market. In order to succeed, businesses need to increase satisfaction and diminish dissatisfaction in the right places. We help our clients’ team members learn how to manage their communication with customers to increase their satisfaction.

Politics (of every persuasion and on both sides of the aisle) is all about satisfying the crowd. In fact, it’s about satisfying different crowds at different times. Politicians regularly modify their words and behavior to satisfy the “base” crowd necessary just to get nominated. Then they alter their words and behavior to satisfy a larger crowd that includes “swing voters” in order to get elected. Once elected, politicians alter their words and behavior constantly and on-the-fly to manage satisfaction across multiple crowds including constituents, their political party, a variety of lobbies, big donors, the press, as well as broader public opinion.

It struck me in today’s chapter that Mark states Pilate’s conviction and judgment of Jesus was made “wanting to satisfy the crowd.” Pilate was a politician, and the region he governed a political powder keg waiting to go off (and it did just 40 years later). Above all else, the Roman Empire valued peace and order in their colonies along with a steady stream of money or “tribute.” While the Roman Empire was not known for valuing individual human life, Pilate’s multiple appeals to “the crowd” seem to indicate his desire not to execute a man who had committed no crimes. In the end, however, the decision was quite easy for a politician to make. Pilate had to maintain peace and order, and it was especially true during that week of the Passover festival when the population of Jerusalem swelled five times its normal size. Pilate could ill afford the tactical political mistake of pissing off the Jewish temple leaders. They had obviously incited the crowd against Jesus, they could equally incite a riot against Rome.

I couldn’t help but remember John’s observation from an earlier visit Jesus made with His followers to Jerusalem for the Passover:

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

John 2:23-24

Jesus stood silent before the kangaroo court and political circus around Him, because the ways of His Kingdom run opposite those of this world.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating the ways in which I “satisfy the crowd.” Certainly, there are ways in which I do so that are normal, natural, and benign. It’s how we do life and live in community with our fellow human beings. The real question is, “Where do I find myself speaking, thinking, and acting to ‘satisfy’ the crowd when it is leading me away from the path of Christ?”

Note: Featured photo Pilate Washing His Hands by Rembrandt. Public Domain. From the Met Collection.

Papa’s Got the Blues

As our daughters grew up, I wanted them to appreciate all kinds of art and music. My own musical tastes run the gamut and I’ve found that every genre has a place in the soundtrack of my life journey, if even for a moment. I wanted that for them, as well.

As the girls grew I started making compilation CDs for them. I wanted to pass on a few of the things I learned and appreciated about my favorite genres of music, expose them to a few of the classic artists and songs, as well as share with them a few of my favorite tunes and how they connect to my life. It’s still an unfinished project. I have two or three CDs still on my task list to compile for them.

Most of the time I simply wrote out some liner notes for the CD in which I shared a paragraph or two about every cut on the CD. When it came to my Blues compilation, I had been playing around with learning an eBook publishing app, so I thought it would be fun to experiment and turn my liner notes for the CD into a graphic eBook.

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were in Mexico for the wedding of her sister, Suzanna. Suzanna lived with Wendy and me for a few years as she finished high school. During her time with us, I had shared my blues compilation, Papa’s Got the Blues with her, as well. The night before her wedding she went out of her way to tell me she still had the CD and loved it.

So, that got me thinking that it might be a fun thing to post that others might also enjoy. So, Merry Christmas! Here you go. Be sure to download the eBook and follow along. If you have Spotify, you should be able to find the playlist and add it to your own set of playlists, if you so desire.

Happy listening! Cheers!

Fail, Rinse, and Repeat

Now when all this was finished, all Israel who were present went out to the cities of Judah and broke down the pillars, hewed down the sacred poles, and pulled down the high places and the altars throughout all Judah and Benjamin, and in Ephraim and Manasseh, until they had destroyed them all.
2 Chronicles 31:1 (NRSVCE)

I decided to become a follower of Jesus when I was a young man. As I began to walk this new journey there were a number of behavioral patterns in my life that I knew I needed to change. There were thoughts, words, and behaviors that were incongruent with the teachings of Jesus. Just like last week’s post I felt a certain internal conviction that I needed to “carry out the filth from the holy place.”

Some of these behavioral patterns were easy to remedy. I simply willed myself to behave differently and it happened. Other behavioral patterns weren’t so easily changed. For years I had fed certain natural appetites in unhealthy ways. These behaviors gave certain levels of comfort, pleasure, and masked some deep soul wounds in ways I didn’t even fathom. With the best of intentions I committed myself to changing the behavior only to find myself, in short order, back doing the same thing I vowed I wouldn’t do anymore.

In today’s chapter we read about the aftermath of King Hezekiah’s homecoming Passover festival. He’d invited all the Hebrew people scattered in the region to return to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast which commemorated God delivering the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. It was a huge success. Revival broke out. The people were humbled and recommitted themselves to the Lord. They repented of their idolatry and went out to tear down their pagan idols. They were going to change their ways!

But wait a minute. Haven’t we read this somewhere before? The people repented of their idolatry during the reign of Asa back in chapter 15. And again during the reign of Jehoshaphat in chapter 19. And again during the reign of Joash in chapter 24. Each time they repented, vowed to give up their idols and follow God. Then they find themselves right back in their idolatrous ways.

Conviction. Repentance. Commitment. Obedience. Temptation. Disobedience.

Rinse, and repeat.

Oh man, do I get that. Along my journey I’ve battled my own demons in the form of appetites out of control. I’ve found myself cycling around and around and around with these unhealthy thoughts, words, actions, and relationships. I feel like a total failure. Here I am again. Ugh.

Looking back now from almost 40 years in the journey here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The cycle is a natural part of the journey. There are lessons to be learned in it. There are lessons that can only be learned in the on-going struggle against our own out-of-control appetites.
  • The cyclical journey and on-going struggle led me on a long slog to dig deeper (multiple counselors and mentors), search farther (reading, studying, friends, accountability, support groups), and to become more brutally honest with myself about my own weaknesses.
  • Plumbing the depths of my depravity led to a deeper understanding of, and experience with, God’s grace and mercy.
  • Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you’re truly ready to change.
  • With each failure, each renewed commitment, and each return to the path of repentance it was hard to see that I was getting anywhere at all but in hindsight I can see that this wayfaring pilgrim was making slow progress towards addressing the core issues that lay beneath my surface behaviors.

This morning I’m recognizing that the people of ancient Judah were a macrocosm of the human struggle against our human weaknesses and out-of-control appetites. Another call to repentance, another revival, another turn away from what was tripping them up. Somehow I don’t think this is the last time. The cycle of struggle was pointing them and me to a very important truth. I can’t do it on my own.

I need a Savior.

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