Tag Archives: Chaos

The Prophet and The Politician

He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.
Jeremiah 38:5 (NIV)

Not long ago I ran into an old school friend from my middle school and high school years. In casual conversation about where our respective journeys have taken us, she asked if I was ever going to run for political office as had been my plan and passion back in the day. I was taken aback that she remembered, and I laughed to myself as I realized how long ago I tossed that childhood dream by the wayside.

Along my journey I’ve known some individuals in politics. Being an Iowan, I have occasionally involved myself in the election process and rubbed shoulders with a few of the small army of candidates who come campaigning for President every four years. I believe that there are really good people in politics who do their best to do good for our country. Yet, here’s what I have observed:

Politics is a game. Power is the prize. A politician says what people want to hear just to get elected. They then say and vote as the power brokers of their party demand in order to get ahead. Both parties pull identical political stunts (depending on their power position in the moment) then point the finger at the opposing party and scream accusations as if they’ve not done the same thing a few years before.

While I’m sure it’s somewhat different at a local level, I learned long ago that I’m not wired to play that game. It would slowly drain all Life from my spirit.

To get a feel for what’s happening in today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story, you’ve got to read the political situation that’s present between the lines. First of all, the ancient practice of siege warfare was a slow, brutal process. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and cut off all supply lines into the city. As the supply of food and fresh water diminish, fear and anxiety grow to unprecedented levels among the population. Power structures break down and those in power desperately try to stave off anarchy.

King Zed finds himself between a rock and a hard place. His political rivals, sick of listening to Jeremiah’s incessant prophesies of defeat, ask the King for Jeremiah’s head. The King grants it (because that’s what you do when you’re a politician trying to hold onto power). Jeremiah is thrown down the bottom of a muddy well to die. The King’s eunuch then asks the King (in private) if he might rescue Jeremiah. The King tells him to do so in secret (because when you’re a politician you secretly work back channels to accomplish what you want).

Jeremiah is summoned by King Zed who asks the prophet to give him a Word from the Lord. “Give yourself up to the King of Babylon and you’ll live,” Jeremiah tells him. Zedekiah, however, is afraid that those citizens who have already surrendered themselves to the Babylonians will turn against him if he gives himself up (and a politician is always worried about maintaining his/her power, popularity, and position). Jeremiah assures the King this will not happen.

Upon conclusion of their private conversation, King Zed warns Jeremiah that he will be asked what they talked about. Being a politician, Zed tells Jeremiah how to “spin” his answer so as to avoid political trouble for both of them (because a politician is always looking for a good win-win).

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about the contrast between Jeremiah the prophet and Zedekiah the politician. The prophet suffers for speaking the truth and being true to the Message, but beneath the suffering the prophet seems to exemplify a certain spiritual peace that comes from being true, steadfast, and faithful. The politician, on the other hand, enjoys the position and creature comforts afforded by his power, but beneath the surface lie fear, anxiety, worry, and the mental chaos from constantly navigating political minefields in the endless desperation to survive.

I am thankful this morning for the good people I know doing their best to serve in the political arena (on both sides of the aisle). I’m also thankful that God led my journey down a different path than the one I’d desired when I was a wee lad. I’m wired to be more prophet than politician, I think.

Though, I confess that I’d prefer not to get thrown into a well.

Order and Freedom

But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NIV)

Along my spiritual journey I have been a part of worship with many different traditions. I was raised in a very liturgical Methodist church, meaning that every part of the service was very structured around ancient traditions. There was a lot of repetition and it was largely the same service every week with minor differences to account for different seasons of the traditional church year. I get how repetitive religious practices lose all power of their metaphorical meaning when a) no one remembers why we’re doing it in the first place and b) there’s no Spirit connection between the repetitive words/actions and the spirits of those worshipping.

At the other end of the spectrum I spent some time in the Quaker tradition (also known as the Society of Friends) which developed out of reacting to all the liturgical structure of the traditional church. In a traditional Quaker service (even their anti-liturgy style becomes its own form of “tradition”) there is little or no structure. Everyone sits in a circle and is quiet (they call it “centering”) until someone feels moved by the Spirit to speak or to sing or to do whatever. Anyone can do so and can say pretty much whatever it is they want to say. The original intent was that everyone would wait for Holy Spirit to prompt them and to be loving and mindful of everyone else in the group. It’s a beautiful idea, but eventually things were so unstructured that there were problems with things in many Quaker churches becoming what would be described by some as a chaotic free-for-all.

I have come to understand that we as human beings like and need a certain amount of structure and order. I think this is part of us being made “in the image” of our Creator. If you stop to think about it, everything in creation has a certain detailed structure and order to it. This is the way God made it. Even the seemingly chaotic tangle of bare tree branches is actually an orderly visual fractal. At the same time, you can get so lost in the order that you, as we say, “lose the forest for the trees.” I’ve come to believe that corporate worship is another example of truth being found at the point of tension between the extremes.

Along my chapter-a-day journey through Paul’s letter to the believers in Corinth, I find there is no doubt that their local gathering was rapidly moving along the disordered chaos side of the spectrum. Paul points this out multiple times. There had been a breakdown to the point that Paul even says their weekly gatherings to worship were doing “more harm than good” (11:17).

In context, I find today’s chapter to be about Paul trying to reestablish some order and structure to the chaos in Corinthian worship. He’s trying to pull them back from their chaotic free-for-alls. Paul hints that they’d come to resemble a pagan food orgy (11:20-22), and the chapter reads like an instruction manual for bring some semblance of structure and order to the Corinthian gatherings. He sums it up by saying “everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

This morning I’m thinking about differences, even in our human personalities. Some of us tend toward the side of “free spirit” in which we go with the flow. As such, it’s easy for us to get little accomplished and to create chaos around ourselves that becomes counterproductive. Some of us tend toward the side of detail and order. As such, it’s easy for us to major on the minors and to create rigidity that becomes counterproductive.

In the quiet this morning I once again find myself seeking balance: freedom with ordered structure; order with room for movement of Spirit and expression.

A Worthwhile Reminder

Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord.
Leviticus 27:28 (NRSV)

Today we wind down our journey through the ancient laws of Leviticus. The final chapter is the ancient Hebrews’ rules as it related to charitable giving above and beyond the regular sacrifices already covered. The ancient Hebrews could dedicate items, even servants or children, to God’s work at the tabernacle (the giant tent which served as nomadic temple) and later the temple that took its place.

For example, in the first chapter of 1 Samuel, Hannah gives birth to little Samuel and dedicates the boy to the Lord. She gives Samuel to the temple for the work of the Lord. In ancient days this would have been a precious gift, not only from an emotional point-of-view, but also from a financial standpoint. The culture of that day attached great worth to boys as they would grow to become warriors, hunters, merchants, and providers. Hannah could have considered Samuel to be security for her retirement, a son who would care for her and provide for her in her old age. Yet she gave her “one and only son” to God.

So, let’s say that a few years later Hannah’s husband kicks the bucket and leaves her destitute. She has second thoughts about giving Samuel to the work of the temple and returns with “givers remorse.” She asks for the boy back. According to the code of Levitical law in today’s chapter, such a “redemption” could be made. Depending on Samuel’s age at the time of redemption, Hannah would have to pay the redemption fee. In many cases, depending on what gift was being redeemed, a 20 percent redemption tax was added.

Then there were items that could never be redeemed. If a foreign idol had been taken as plunder during a battle of conquest, that idol was “devoted to destruction” and had to be destroyed. The person who plundered it had to give it to the priests to be destroyed and couldn’t redeem it. That’s why, in the story of Joshua, a man named Achan got into such trouble. He took plundered idols for himself and didn’t give them over for destruction. That was “against the law” and Achan paid the penalty for it.

This morning my mind is mulling over many things. I’m kind of glad this journey through Leviticus is over. It’s definitely not “feel good” devotional material that pumps my heart full of inspiration at the start of the day. I confess I’m ready to move on. At the same time, I’m thankful for the layers of depth that Leviticus provides to other events and sections of God’s Message. The stories of Samuel, and of Achan, have new layers of understanding for me now.

As I think about summing things up, Leviticus reminds me that God is a God of order, despite our human penchant for making a chaotic mess of life and creation. Leviticus beckons me to seek the Creator’s natural order when life and relationships are in chaos. And, for me, that’s a worthwhile reminder.

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A Step of Faith Off the Flotsam

Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.
Romans 6:19 (NIV)

There is movement to life. Swift is the current of the river of life even when we feel relatively stationary. Good Dr. Einstein opened our minds to this reality in his theory of relativity. I sit on an airplane feeling inert and motionless while I am actually flying through the air at hundreds of miles an hour.  So I may feel “stuck” in life while day by day the river of life carries me swiftly toward my ultimate destination.

This morning as I read the words above from Paul’s letter to the Romans, I was taken back to my dark years. Having isolated a part of my heart and life from all others, I “offered myself” to impurity. In my secret isolation, I did not perceive how swiftly the river of life carried me onward. It was as if I had hidden myself in a dark, windowless capsule floating heedlessly in life’s river. Nor did I perceive how my impurity “ever increased” until existence inside my dark cocoon became unmanageable chaos. Things were shriveling up and dying inside and out. Something had to change.

I opened the airtight seal on my dark capsule and invited Light in. I could then see enough to claw my way out and on top of my floating chamber. Looking around and getting my bearings, I began using anything I could find as a rudder to begin steering myself in a new direction.

Then I looked up and saw Jesus walking on the water just a ways off to one side. He reached out His hand and smiled. “Come with me,” he said. I looked at the running water between us and stared. I looked back at Him. “Don’t be afraid,” he said his hand still outstretched.

I stepped off the flotsam of my poor choices and reached out to offer my hand to Jesus…

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featured image from film short Flotsam by the Zellner Bros.

The Challenge of Leadership Change

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.
Judges 12:7 (NRSV)

A leader sometimes needs time to find traction, and a quick succession of leaders creates difficulty for the team, or people, being led. I have observed this in different organizations from athletic teams to business to government and civic groups.

Take a step back and look at the list of Judges and the “year of rest” during their period of leadership so far:

Othniel (40)
Ehud (80)
Shamgar (?)
Deborah & Barak (40)
Gideon (40)
Tola (23)
Jair (22)
Jepthah (6)
Ibzan (7)
Elon (10)
Abdon (8)

The tenures of leadership are getting smaller. Unrest is growing, and it won’t be long before the people are crying out for a new form a government. All the city-states around them had strong central leadership in the form of a monarchy. Israel will be clamoring for that as well. God predicted this (Deut 17:14-15) and it will come to pass.

This morning I’m thinking about leadership and it’s relationship to the people and organizations under their influence. Time is required in developing a successful leadership and organizations. When there are rapid changes in leadership marked by short tenures, the organization struggles to find traction and constancy of purpose. The system learns to function on its own, believing/knowing that new leadership will not last and the chaos of change is futile. Dysfunction grows.

In an age in which changes in technology and culture are happening at a faster rate than any other time in history, I believe we will struggle. We will struggle the time required for the development of strong, capable leadership. We will struggle if/when leadership changes become more rapid.

God, help me to lead well, follow well, and adapt to unprecedented levels of change.

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featured image Create Learning via Flickr

Difficult Paths; Explicable and Not

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NRSV)

My life journey has led me on some difficult paths…

Some paths were difficult, but I willfully chose them knowing full well where they would likely lead. As Bob Dylan put it, “like a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat, going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street.” Those difficulties and the natural, negative consequences which affected myself and others are on me.

Some paths were difficult because of the willful choices of others and their natural, negative consequences which directly affected me in hurtful ways. Those difficulties are on the individuals who made those choices.

Still other paths were made difficult because we live in a fallen world in which sickness, disease, and inexplicable tragedy may suddenly affect any one of us at any time. Those difficulties are on Adam, Eve, and all of us who tread this earth east of Eden.

Some paths are made difficult because we live within a Great Story of good and evil. Evil exists in the world carrying out its chaotic and self-centered motives to destructive ends. Whether through direct attack or ripple effect, those difficulties are on the evil one and all who follow.

Then there are difficult paths I tread and I cannot explain them. They don’t fit neatly in any of the previous sources I’ve identified. These are the most perplexing. These are the things which I place within the description found in today’s chapter. These are the secret things that belong to God. I don’t see God’s purposes or perceive His reasons, and I struggle perpetually to find a place of contentment or peace in the mystery of it.

This is why it is called a faith journey.

 

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Dramatic, Peaceful Reason

Gamaliel“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NRSV)

Being a playwright, I love a good dramatic moment, and I have always loved the moment described in today’s chapter. Going back to Jesus’ triumphant entry, there there had been so much emotional reaction to everything:

  • The crowds are stirred up in passionate support of Jesus, proclaiming Him their next king
  • Religious leaders reacted to Jesus’ teaching and popularity by plotting to kill Him
  • The crowds are stirred up in violent opposition to Jesus, calling for His death
  • Jesus’ followers first react in fear and run for their lives
  • Jesus’ followers then react in wonder as they encounter the risen Christ
  • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem in confidence, proclaim the resurrection, and lead a massive revival in which thousands choose to follow
  • The public reacts by thronging from all over the region to Jesus’ followers seeking healing
  • The high priest and religious leaders react by throwing the disciples in prison

I can only imagine what complete chaos it must have felt like to have been swept up in the events of that time and place. I have experienced a few moments when events stirred massive reactions in the public socially and politically. 9/11 is perhaps the most intense, but I even think about the extreme reactions on all sides of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months. There are times when everything and everyone seem out of control.

Into the maelstrom of events in Jerusalem the the wise, aged Gamaliel stepped. Drama is created with conflict and/or extreme contrasts, and in this case we find Gamaliel providing a sudden and stark contrast to all of the chaos. Amidst the screaming he speaks softly. Amidst the unbridled emotions he is peaceful. Amidst the extreme editorializing he provides reason. He talks the religious leaders off the ledge. Chill. Let it go. Let this play out.

Today, I’m realizing my age. I don’t have the emotional energy to get stirred up with a young man’s passion as I once did. Like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, I find increasing peace in accepting the things I am powerless to change including public reactions and socio-political emotions. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to act reasonably and fulfill my civic duties. In doing so, I hope that I can model Gamaliel when necessary to bring quiet peace and reason amidst unreasonable reactions.