Tag Archives: America

Just Like Yesterday

“What troubles you now,
    that you have all gone up on the roofs….”
Isaiah 22:1 (NIV)

I have a very clear memory of an episode of Happy Days, the iconic sitcom about American life in the 1950’s. Ron Howard’s character, Richie, along with his friends go all-in campaigning for Adlai Stevenson. Richie even falls for a girl in the campaign office. At the end of the episode Richie comes home heartbroken when his new girlfriend says she can’t see him anymore because he’ll only remind her of Stevenson’s defeat. He returns home and his parents inform him that Eisenhower was declared the winner. It was one of my first lessons in the roller coaster of American politics.

I grew up in the angst of the Watergate scandal. I remember in high school and college the heated anger toward Reagan from the left and assurances that he would lead to America’s demise. I remember the same predictions on the right, and conservatives threatening to leave the country if Bill Clinton won. The same things are now being said on the left these days.

As a student of history I have learned that the political pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth. One of the amazing things about the way the American Founding Fathers designed our system was the opportunity we have every four years to go a different direction, and how often we do exactly that.

Isaiah’s prophetic word this morning was for a generation of people in Jerusalem who were experiencing political upheaval much greater and more dire than anything we are experiencing this morning. The siege of Jerusalem would end in mass death, starvation leading to cannibalism, and the enslavement and captivity of an entire generation of people (read Lamentations for Jeremiah’s poetic take on those terrible events).

As I wake in my hotel this morning my day is starting pretty much the way it did yesterday, the way it did when I started this job in the Clinton years, the way it did after 9-11, the way it did during the eight years of the Bush administration, and the way it did for eight years under President Obama.

America, in its relatively short history, has proven to be incredibly flexible and resilient. I don’t see that changing. Richie Cunningham may have suffered the defeat of Stevenson, but the election of JFK was just around the corner as America left the stodgy Eisenhower to embrace a new political generation. Happy Days ended long before it could tell that story, just as Isaiah’s prophecy would end long before he would witness the restoration of Jerusalem whose destruction he prophesied. No matter how you feel about the election results this morning, you can be assured that the story will continue.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work. Just like yesterday.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Then my God put it into my mind to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy.
Nehemiah 7:5 (NRSV)

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Astronaut, athlete, soldier, doctor, teacher, fire fighter, actor, engineer…

I sometimes think that many take for granted what freedom, rugged individualism, and the American experience have meant for those of us who’ve been blessed to grow up here, whose families have been here for generations.

My great-grandfather came by himself from the Netherlands as a teenager. He started as a carpenter, helped found the Co-op in Boyden, Iowa. He then started his own hardware store. My grandfather went to college and became an educator. His sons worked in meat packing and accounting. My dad’s children have worked in restoration and architectural arts, education, ministry and business. My children are finding their way into art and event management along with cosmetic sales.

What do you want to do with your life?

For the ancients in Nehemiah’s day, your family of birth often determined what you would do as an occupation. To quote Fiddler on the Roof, it was tradition. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests. Only descendants of Levi could work in the temple of God. If you were a “son of Korah” you were a musician. The genealogical record that Nehemiah referenced was critical to their society. Your family told who you were, and what you would be when you grew up.

The destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman in 70 A.D. was a momentous event in Jewish history because all of the extensive genealogical records of the Jewish people were destroyed. In the global diaspora of the Jewish people over the centuries the Jewish people lost track of which family and tribe they belonged to. Those orthodox believers in Israel today who wish to see, and are actively working towards, the rebuilding of a temple in Jerusalem face a legal dilemma in the law of Moses. If only sons of Aaron can be priest and only Levites can serve in such a temple according to God’s law, how do we know who the descendants of Aaron and Levites are? I wouldn’t be surprised if there are DNA experts in Israel working on an answer.

Today, I’m thinking about how awful it would be if I was stuck in the original family business of my great-grandfather. I’d be a terrible carpenter, and a very depressed adult. The same goes for being an accountant like my father. Both of those men were good at what they did, but my passion, gifts, and abilities lie elsewhere. I wonder how the ancients did it.

I’m grateful for the unique passions, gifts, talents and abilities God gives to each of us. I’m equally thankful to live in a land of freedom where I can choose to pursue those passions … or not.

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I Have a Dream: The Love Party

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Romans 13:10 (NIV)

For those of you reading this who live outside of the state of Iowa, please understand that our entire state population is near the point of going postal. Every local ad on television and radio is a political ad for President or a PAC ad taking shots at this or that candidate. Our phones ring countless times a day. We are surveyed to death or treated to recorded messages from the candidates. The Iowa caucuses are this week and we are ready for them to be over.

It’s impossible to escape the political conversation in Iowa every four years in January. My friends and acquaintances are representative of the entire spectrum of political ideology from staunch conservatives to progressive liberals. The one thing that I hear everyone along the ideological continuum agreeing on is that 1) not one of the candidates is particularly great and 2) our election process and political system is in need of reform.

I have been day dreaming of late. It’s a pipe dream, really. I’ve been dreaming of a political party called the Love Party. The Love Party would operate under the umbrella of the law of love. Political ads of the Love Party would never be negative or attack others. Love Party candidates would seek to unite and not divide. Our platform would seek good for subsequent generations and not quick profit for ourselves with no thought of the long term consequences. We would seek our citizens genuine welfare; Not giving free handouts and subsidies in exchange for votes (into perpetuity) but requiring that those who receive assistance, in turn, must assist themselves and their community. Love Party candidates would model self imposed term limits, refusing to lord over others and line their personal fortunes and rigging rules for their own benefit.

Today, I’m dreaming. But, it’s a good dream on which to start a Monday. There may never be a national Love Party, but maybe I can be a Party of one. This is America. I am free to be the Love Party.

 

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Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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featured photo: adwriter via Flickr

Tom’s 30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 4

If you could own one painting from any collection in the world but were not allowed to sell it, which work of art would you select?

So many great works to choose from. There are so many works by Degas, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Vermeer I would love to have, but my heart always comes back to Grant Wood. Like midwest America itself, Wood is underappreciated. I have always thought that he was able to capture the beauty of the Iowa landscape better than anyone else and I feel an emotional connection to his work because it reminds me of my own connection to this land. Not to mention, his paintings would look great hanging in our home. This particular painting, Fall Plowing, captures one of my favorite times of year when the landscape is alive with everchanging colors and textures.