Tag Archives: Absalom

Lament (and Parenting)

Lament (and Parenting) [CaD Ps 55] Wayfarer

If an enemy were insulting me,
    I could endure it;
if a foe were rising against me,
    I could hide.
But it is you, a man like myself,
    my companion, my close friend,
with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
    at the house of God…

Psalm 55:12-14 (NIV)

Thus far, in my entire life journey, I discovered that the process of releasing my adult children on to their own respective paths of life to be one of the most surprisingly difficult things I’ve ever experienced. It’s not just about the loss of control and the fact that my child may choose paths unfitting my dreams, desires, and expectations. It’s also the experience of catching glimpses of my own weaknesses and shortcomings as a parent, and the useless wonderings of “What if I had only….”

The greatest challenge of David’s life was not the Bathsheba scandal which I talked about in the podcast on Psalm 51. Bathsheba gets top billing and is better known because it has all of the classic plot elements we love in a steamy Harlequin Romance. The greatest challenge of David’s life is lesser known, but I personally find it even more fascinating because it is more intimate and complex. Late in David’s life, he faces a coup de tête finds himself fleeing for his life, and almost loses his throne and his life to his very own son.

The story is found in 2 Samuel 13-19. Let me give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version. The seeds of the rebellion are in David’s own shortcomings as a father. Marriage and family looked very different for a monarch in ancient times. Not only was polygamy regularly practiced, but a monarch had the added layer of nations wanting to marry off daughters to other kings to establish diplomatic ties. David had eight wives, and at least 10 concubines. Which meant the palaces were teaming with princes and princesses who were half-brothers and half-sisters. Long story short, Prince Amnon had the hots for his sister, Princess Tamar. He rapes her, and then in his shame, he shuns Tamar and wants nothing to do with. He treated her like a prostitute. King David is furious according to the record, but he does nothing. He passively seems to ignore the whole thing.

Princess Tamar’s older brother is Prince Absalom, and Absalom bottles up his rage against his half-brother Amnon, who raped his sister, and against his father who did nothing to justly deal with Amnon. The seeds of Prince Absalom’s rage take root and grow into a plot to kill his brother and steal his father’s kingdom. He succeeds at the former, and nearly succeeds with the latter.

In the process of his scheming to steal his father’s throne, the Great Story records that Absalom spent a lot of time establishing allies among the rich, noble, and powerful people in the kingdom. Quietly, slowly he used his position and influence to create both debts and alliances so that when he pulled the trigger on his coup David had virtually no one supporting him.

We can’t be certain, but the lyrics of David’s song that we know as Psalm 55 seem as though they could very well have been penned during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. David expresses that Jerusalem is a boiling cauldron of deceit, treachery, and violence. He feels the sting of an unnamed “companion” who he thought was a friend and ally, but turns out to have sold him out. It is certainly reasonable to think that he’s referring to someone that Absalom convinced to aid in his rebellion.

Like many of David’s songs, Psalm 55 is a personal lament. He is pouring out all of his emotions from despair, hurt, anguish, fear, confusion, and the desire to fly away from all of his troubles. In the pouring out of his deepest emotions he also is reminded of how faithful God had always been and the song ends with a simple proclamation of his unwavering trust.

One of the fascinating threads in the story of Absalom’s rebellion is David’s unwavering love for Absalom. Despite the fratricide, the rebellion, and the attempt to destroy David and take everything that was his, David ordered his men to be gentle with Absalom. When he heard Absalom had been killed, David wept and mourned to the point that his own General called David out for humiliating all of the soldiers who had been loyal to him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the complex relationship between parents and children, especially as children mature into their own selves and lives. The whole story of David and his children Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom is a hot mess. There is so much of the story that is not told. Nevertheless, it reminds me of the intense and infinite love a parent feels for a child no matter the differences, conflicts, or chasms that emerge in the relationship.

Once again, there is no concrete evidence to directly correlate Psalm 55 with the story of Absalom’s rebellion, nor is there concrete evidence to the contrary. Some mornings, I find that this is the way the chapter-a-day journey goes. The text connects me to one idea which leads down another path of thought, and I end up in an unintended destination of thought and Spirit. C’est lav ie.

Parenting is one of the grand adventures of this life journey. It has produced the greatest of joys and the deepest of sorrows. It has humbled me to my core, and has equipped Lady Sophia with some of the most powerful practicums for teaching me wisdom.

Blind Spots (and Parenting)

I have the blessing this weekend of spending time with a friend and his son. It’s a rite-of-passage weekend. It is a time to empower, launch, and let go. Every parent has his or her blind spots, but I am so thankful for those who are willing to confess this, address it, and work to shed Light on the blind spots even after their children are launched. This post about King David’s parenting “blind spots” has had a lot of traffic in the five years since I first published it. I’m sowing it out there again today, and praying for good soil.

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved firstborn son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light on our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

Dealing Swiftly with Troublemakers

Joab_and_the_wise_womanNow a troublemaker named Sheba son of Bikri, a Benjamite, happened to be there. He sounded the trumpet and shouted,

“We have no share in David,
    no part in Jesse’s son!
Every man to his tent, Israel!”

2 Samuel 20:1 (NIV)

One troublemaker is all it takes to bring ruin on an entire group. I have experienced this on teams, in a cast/production, in churches, in civic organizations and in business. Years ago I witnessed a business suffer from the schemes of a troublemaker who happened to be the son of the owner. The father refused to discipline or deal with his son while the son connived to gain more and more power within the company. Eventually the father sold the business to his friend. When the transaction was completed and the new owner was in place, the former owner advised his friend to fire the son. The new owner thought to himself, “Even though he told me to fire his son, my friend will surely hold it against me if I actually do it.” So the new owner refused to deal with the troublemaker for many years and the son continued to be a source of contention and strife within the organization.

I thought about that business this morning as I read the chapter. Like the father in my example, David refused to acknowledge and deal with his troublemaker son, Absalom, until it was almost too late. Still stinging from Absalom’s coup d’etat, David appears to have learned his lesson. He moves swiftly to deal with the troublemaker, Sheba.

When Sheba flees to hide in the town of Abel Beth Maakah, David’s army surrounds the town and lays siege to it. A wise woman in the town arranges for a parlay with the general, Joab, and learns that the entire village is being threatened with destruction because of one troublemaker, Sheba. The wise woman quickly surmises that it would be better for the whole city to expel the trouble maker than face possible ruin. Sheba’s head is cut off and hurled over the wall to Joab and the army and the threat is eliminated.

The further I get in life’s journey the more intolerant I have become of troublemakers and crazymakers. I have discovered that there is a difference between a reasonable person with whom I am having conflict and a trouble maker who cannot be reasoned with. Wisdom an discernment are required, but once it is clear that I am dealing with a troublemaker or crazy maker, I have found that acting quickly to cut that person off is in my best interest and the best interest of the group.

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Carte Blanche Companions

 

Joab confronts the grieving King David
Joab confronts the grieving King David

Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)

One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front-line to the executive suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization which mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. which permeated virtually every level of the operation.

One of the things I’ve observed about David as we’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man Joab confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom overshadow his duty as king. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in getting in David’s face and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.

I have a handful of people in my life, people with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are people with whom I talk about and share life with on a regular basis. We talk about business, church, family, friendships, finances, and relationships. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.

This journey through life can be a long hike. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.

Today, I’m thankful for my faithful companions on this life journey.

 

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(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son

Chip off the ol' block.
Chip off the ol’ block.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)

A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.

“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. My brother and I have even joked about it. “I may have the Vander Well nose,” he said to me this past year, “but at least I didn’t get the receding hairline and the bad hearing.” I think he feels he got the better end of the deal.

It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not at the similarities, but at the contrast between David and his rebellious, prodigal son Absalom:

  • As a young man David was the anointed king, but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
  • David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom the respect and gentleness his son, a prince. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
  • David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated out of anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.

I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.

As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they’ve been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.

This morning I am thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, lived on opposite sides of that line.

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Great Stories; My Story

The Godfather Part III
The Godfather Part III (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.” 2 Samuel 17:5 (NIV)

It is said that one of the aspects of great stories are their timelessness. When I was in college studying theatre there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the complete works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes I spent more time studying plays that were hundreds and thousands of years old than contemporary works.

As I read ancient stories like the story of David we’re wading through now, I can’t help but hear echoes of other timeless stories and make connections between them. Power plays for the throne, human failures, and the intrigue of family rivalries are the stuff of which classic stories are made. Today as I was reading the chapter, I thought of The Godfather films and the saga of the Corleone family, which is a timeless classic in its own right. As they led their mafia family, Vito and Michael Corleone always tried to have a guy, loyal to the family, on the inside of a rival family or faction. Luca Brasi dies while trying to convince the Tataglias that he wants to betray Don Corleone. Michael sends his brother Fredo to Las Vegas which not only serves to get Fredo out of his sight but also plants his own brother inside of an operation he doesn’t trust.

A few days ago we read that the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside of Absalom’s inner circle. It proved to be a cunning move. Absalom took the bait hook, line and sinker. In today’s chapter, David’s scheme comes to fruition and Hushai sets the hook which will be the undoing of Absalom. Absalom was a cunning young man and had planned his moves against his brothers and father well. In the end, however, he underestimated all the wisdom and experience his father had gathered while running for his life in enemy territory for many years. In addition, Absalom’s self-seeking motivation was about revenge, anger, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own failings, but his heart was still humble before God.

In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone’s son confronts his father about the “bad memories” he has of his family and childhood. “Every family has bad memories,” Michael replies. And, so they do. Another appeal of great stories are the connections we make to our own lives and experiences. We are all part of the human experience. Even in my own family there are true tales of tragedy and intrigue. Times change, but people are people and our common human flaws source similar tales in our own lives and families. We each play our part in the story. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of word, relationships, and deeds.

How will I choose to influence my story, and the story of my family, today?

 

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“If You Can’t Do the Time…”

david absalomAbsalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. 2 Samuel 15:6 (NIV)

Being forgiven does not erase the fact that we must face the natural consequences of our actions. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent conspiracy to commit murder, David showed great remorse and sought God’s forgiveness but the events sewed seeds of scandal, anger and resentment both inside David’s family and in the public. Nathan’s prophetic word that the sword would never depart David’s house is fulfilled as the consequences of David’s blind spots now bear bitter fruit.

David’s children knew their father’s weaknesses both as a father and as a king. In today’s chapter, Absalom masterfully exploits his father’s scandal and weak leadership in a brilliantly planned and executed coup d’etat. David was forced to make hasty preparation to escape the city with his closest followers and arrange for spies to gather inside information regarding his the rebels’ plot. David’s very own son had stolen his kingdom and was reaching out to steal his crown.

Today I am reminded of many mistakes I’ve made along the journey and their residual effect on relationships, circumstances, and perceptions. Jesus advised people to “count the cost” before agreeing to follow Him. The same advice might also be given when tempted. There is a cost to wrong-doing and we are all wise to give consideration to the tragic consequences that might arise in the wake of our poor choices. As the saying goes, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”

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The Medium of the Message Matters

 

Woman of Tekoa before King David (source: wikipedia)
Woman of Tekoa before King David (source: wikipedia)

Now Joab son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s mind was on Absalom. Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman. He said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner; put on mourning garments, do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead. Go to the king and speak to him as follows.” And Joab put the words into her mouth. 2 Samuel 14:1-3 (NSRV)

A few weeks ago, while Wendy and I were spending a few days at the lake, we watched the movie 12 Years a Slave. In case you’ve been hiding in a cave this past year and have not heard of it, the Academy Award winning movie is based on a book written during the abolition movement in America and is the autobiography of a free African American living in the north who was kidnapped, smuggled to the south and sold into slavery. His story was so powerful, and so powerfully told, that Wendy and I sat speechless on the couch as the credits rolled, tears streaking down our cheeks. Our hearts had been rent. It was, for me, a history lesson, a parable about the human condition, and a call to continue opening my eyes, my mouth, my pen and my wallet to address similar injustices that still exist in this world today.

One of the reasons I love the arts, and the dramatic arts in particular, is their ability to communicate spiritual truths and move people to action in a way that no other mode of communication does. During one of the final read-throughs of my script Ham Buns and Potato Salad before we went into production this last year one of the female readers, emotionally shaken by the story, exclaimed that we had better have counselors available at the back of the theatre because of the emotions and painful memories it might bring up for audience members. I was taken aback by her strong emotional response after simply being part of a table reading of the script. That’s the power of a story well told. As a writer, it gratified me to know that the story had effectively reached at least one person.

Today’s chapter is one that I studied in depth while pursuing my theatre degree in college. It is, arguably, the only story of acting told throughout the entirety of the Bible. Joab needed to get through to King David. Perhaps he’d seen how Nathan’s story of the rich man stealing the poor man’s only lamb had gotten through to the king. David couldn’t see his blind spot if you tried to reveal it to him plainly, but when you cloaked it in a metaphorical story, he could see his own situation clearly. Joab decides to hire an actor, costume her in mourning clothes, use a little make-up to make it look like she’d been grieving, and gave her a script to follow. She played the part brilliantly. What impresses me is that she took the part and nailed the role knowing that the King, once it was revealed that he’d been conned, could easily have ordered her death for tricking him.

I believe that we don’t give enough thought to how we communicate. Not only on a corporate level, but also on an interpersonal one. Most every human conflict can be traced back to a break down in communication. I believe equally that the hope of redemption and restoration hinges on our ability to communicate, not only clearly, but in multiple channels and mediums. By capably utilizing diverse mediums of communication we can reach each diverse audience member through a medium, perhaps the only medium, through which they can hear and receive the Message.

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Blind Spots

Davids Family TreeWhen King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved first born son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light of our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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