Tag Archives: Choices

“The People Said Nothing”

"The People Said Nothing" (CaD 1 Ki 18) Wayfarer

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.
1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Wendy and I had dinner with friends last night. Our friends’ children are in their college and young adult years, and we had a fascinating conversation about children and their spiritual journeys. It is quite common for the college and young adult years to be a time when one contemplates the belief system with which they’ve been raised, and begins to make their own determinations regarding matters of faith and spirit. For me, it was the emotional angst of adolescence that led me to search for what I really believed. I was a little ahead of the game compared to a lot of people’s experiences.

Today’s chapter contains one of the most fascinating and exciting episodes in the Great Story. Elijah urges the people of Israel to stop their duplicitous worship of Baal and Asherah and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the worship of the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Interestingly, Elijah’s appeal receives no response.

The prophet then challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a competition. Sacrifices are prepared and prayers raised for fire to descend from heaven to burn the sacrifices. The God who answers with fire is the true God. Let the spiritual smackdown begin.

The prophets of Baal rave all day long. They dance, scream, cut themselves, and whip themselves into a religious frenzy, while Elijah talks trash from the sidelines. There isn’t so much as a spark. Elijah then repairs the altar of the Lord and prepares the sacrifice. He then soaks the sacrifice and the altar with water. After uttering a simple prayer, fire falls from heaven and consumes the altar and the sacrifice.

The people fall on their faces in awestruck fear and humility.

Along my life journey, I have observed many, many individuals whose faith appears to be like the people of Israel when Elijah made his appeal: non-commital and silently unresponsive. I observe many who go through the religious motions of maintaining membership, giving a little money, and regularly making an appearance for an hour or two. The other 165 hours of the week, however, are void of any tangible signs of faith.

God’s fiery demonstration on Mount Carmel, however, shook people to their core and motivated both change and commitment. I have often observed similar reactions in people when a life event or tragedy shakes them to the core, like that of being in college or on your own in the world without parental supervision. In the routine and complacency of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into spiritual atrophy. No matter what anyone says about my spiritual need, I just go about my life and don’t respond. It’s only when circumstances shake me to the core that I fall to my knees.

I’m reminded this morning that what God desires is not a complacent, silent, religious routine that has little impact on my daily life. What God desires is an ongoing relationship of spirit and conversation with me that informs and motivates my thoughts, words, and actions each and every day.

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

The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

Great Stories, My Story

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 is their timelessness. When I studied theatre in college there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes, I spent more time studying plays and stories 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 (Game of Thrones), tragic human failure (Anakin Skywalker), and the intrigue of family rivalries (Succession) 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; 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 chapters ago, amidst the chaos of Absalom’s coup, the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside 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 anger, vengeance, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own blind spots and failings, but at the core of his being his heart was still humble before God.

In the third act of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather epic, 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 is 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. We are each a cog in our family’s system. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of words, relationships, and deeds.

How will I choose to influence my story, and my family’s story, today?

 A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
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The featured image on today’s post created with Wonder A.I.

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

Legacy

Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 
1 Samuel 31:4 (NIV)

I don’t come from a large family. My mom was an only child, and my dad had just one brother. So, I grew up with just one aunt and uncle, and only three first cousins. A week ago today, my dad got a call saying that his brother had taken a turn for the worst. I drove the folks up to northwest Iowa on Saturday so Dad could see his brother. The local hospice took over my uncle’s care earlier this week. It won’t be long.

After returning home on Saturday, Wendy and I attended a dinner for a locally centered missions organization that was rooted in one man’s love for the people of Haiti. It happens that Wendy actually worked for this man for many years, and he had a profound impact on her life in her young adult years. He died just this past year. His son has grown the mission organization his father inspired and at the dinner, he paid his father a wonderful tribute. Wendy shed more than a few tears.

Today’s chapter tells the end of Saul’s tragic story. Falling on his own sword in an act of suicide is an ironic and sad end to a life marked by self-destructive choices and behavior.

Not surprisingly, I have death on my mind this morning.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned the reality that everything I possess gets left behind when this life journey is over. That’s not the only thing I leave behind, however. My possessions are meaningless in the grand scheme. What isn’t meaningless is the legacy I leave behind with those who my earthly life touched.

What will my legacy be?

In the quiet this morning, that is the question I’m pondering. Along this life journey, have I planted seeds of faith, hope, and love that will continue to bear fruit once I am gone? As I ponder the lives and legacies of Uncle Bud and Denny and Saul, It strikes me that legacy is never about just one day or one life event. Legacy is the culmination of daily motives, words, actions, relationships, and choices across some 30,000 or more days I may, or may not, be granted on this earth.

Some day it will be my life that others will remember, or not.

Every day counts. Tomorrow is never assured.

May I make the most of this day in ways that matter.

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

Unmanageable

Unmanageable (CaD 1 Sam 28) Wayfarer

Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.
1 Samuel 28:16-18

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” is a quote that has been misattributed to Albert Einstein for many years. Etymologists find no evidence of Einstein ever saying the words. It was fascinating for me to learn that the earliest documented uses of the quote are from the Twelve Step group Al-anon, particularly with regard to the second step: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In yesterday’s chapter, I made the case that David’s flight to live among his enemies was prompted by the realization that Saul would never give up trying to kill him. Why? Because multiple times Saul had spoken words of repentance and sworn oaths to do so, and every time he goes right back to doing what he’s sworn he won’t do. It’s just like the insanity of addiction.

If you go to a Twelve Step meeting, you’ll hear stories of lives that have become unmanageable. Individuals speak of addictive insanity that has brought them to the brink of death and lives that have completely self-destructed. That’s where I observe Saul being in today’s chapter, only Saul’s problem is not alcoholism or drug addiction. Saul is addicted to his own pride, greed, and envy.

When the Philistines line up for battle with Saul and his army, Saul becomes afraid. He seeks some word or sign from God of what will happen, but God is silent. Samuel is dead. The high-priest, Abiathar, has joined up with David. Saul has no prophet in his service. In desperation, Saul hires a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel even though he knows that such an act is against God’s law. It’s just like when Saul crossed the line and offered sacrifices that only a priest was allowed to make. His fear drives him to cross the line and do what he knows he shouldn’t do, just like he’s always done expecting a different outcome.

Samuel’s spirit does appear and reiterates the very thing he had told Saul before. Saul’s repeated disobedience and his refusal to admit that his own actions have led his life to become unmanageable and to submit to God, who could restore his sanity, his own actions and choices have sealed his fate. He will die in the upcoming battle, and David will succeed him as king just as had been prophesied.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back on my own life journey and the times my life had become unmanageable because of my foolish choices. It’s easy to read Saul’s story and shake my head in judgment, except I can’t. There’s another famous quote that I can make my own: “There, but for the grace of God, goes Tom Vander Well.” Saul is a tragic figure. The best thing about tragedies, even the real ones I hear in a Twelve Step meeting, is that they can help inform my own life and my own choices.

I don’t want to be a Saul. I would rather be a David.

The determining factor is what I choose to do with my own decisions, actions, and words today.

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

The Tragedy of Saul

The Tragedy of Saul (CaD 1 Sam 18) Wayfarer

When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.
1 Samuel 18:28-29 (NIV)

The history of theatre traces its roots back to ancient Greece. The stories that the Greeks adapted for the stage were typically comedies or tragedies. Even Shakespeare’s plays are categorized as comedy, tragedy, or history. The iconic comedy and tragedy masks continue to symbolize the theatre to this day.

In all of the Great Story, Saul may arguably be the most tragic figure. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, his ego, pride, and envy lead him on an ongoing, downward spiral as he becomes obsessed with his anointed rival, David.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel documents the stark contrast between David and Saul. David is humble and successful in everything he does. He’s a successful warrior, musician, leader, and lover. Five times in today’s chapter the author reminds us of David’s success and God’s favor towards him. Six times in today’s chapter, the author documents Saul’s anger, jealousy, envy, and rage.

To make matters worse, Saul appears to heed The Godfather’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” He intertwines his life with David to the extent that he can’t escape. David is always there. David is his minstrel. David is one of his best military officers. David is his son’s best friend. Jonathan treats David like a brother. David is the husband of his daughter. Michal is in love with the guy. Every decision Saul makes assures his self-destruction, while every decision David makes solidifies his success to Saul’s envious chagrin.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed individuals whose lives appear to be an echo of Saul’s. Their lives are one ongoing series of tragedies, the fruit of their own foolishness and cyclical poor choices. I’ve also observed those whose lives appear to be charmed like David. They succeed at everything they do and appear blessed in every way. In contrast, they appear to make routinely wise choices and enjoy a general sense of favor.

In the quiet this morning, there were two things that struck me as I meditated on the contrasting characters of Saul and David. First, I’ve learned along my spiritual journey that I have a nasty envious streak. Not surprisingly, it is the core weakness of an Enneagram Type Four (that’s me). It took me years to see the fulness of it in myself. I’m still in process of learning how to address it in a healthy way. So, I have to confess that I identify with Saul more than I care to admit.

The second thing that struck me is simply the cyclical and systemic pattern of Saul’s decline and David’s rise. The text states that God’s favor was with David and not with Saul, so there’s a spiritual component to it, but there is also the fact that Saul continuously made poor choices that ensured his failure, while David continuously acted with humility and made wise decisions. This leads me to consider my own choices – the choices I made yesterday, and the choices I will make today. Where am I making poor choices? Where am I making wise choices? How can I make fewer of the former and more of the latter?

David wasn’t perfect, by any means, but I’d prefer that my story look more like his than Saul’s.

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

What the Camera Sees

What the Camera Sees (CaD 1 Sam 9) Wayfarer

Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
1 Samuel 9:2 (NIV)

The other day in my post I mentioned how much change I have observed in our world and culture with the advent of the internet and social media. It has been fascinating to observe the dawn of such a powerful, global medium of communication. As with every communication medium, it has both the potential for so much good and the potential for so much evil.

Like most people, I have enjoyed exploring, learning, and using different online tools and social media like this blog I’ve been writing now for sixteen years. With two grandchildren living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, I am so grateful for photos, video, and FaceTime. I’ve enjoyed that social media has allowed for closer, more frequent direct connections with family, classmates, and friends. I have been amazed to watch groups of people supporting others in times of need and crisis that never would have been possible before the internet because everyone was scattered around the world and we simply lost track of one another with no good way to effectively and easily communicate with so many people.

Along the way, I have also observed how things are communicated on social media. I have thought long and hard about how I want to use this tool and what I choose to communicate. I’ve observed that it is easy to start living life almost completely online. For those who are physically isolated for one reason or another, that brings incredible freedom. At the same time, I’ve observed that it becomes a dangerous escape for others.

In the early days of the internet, I was part of a group chat with people from all over the world. What I discovered over time was that some individuals in the chat were themselves, while others in the chat had created a persona they wanted others to believe was them. One member messaged me privately to confess that everything they purported to be in the group was a lie. The person was lonely, depressed and life was out of control, so they lived a fantasy online life in a group chat, hidden behind a username.

I have also been fascinated to observe how people present themselves online and how “likes” and “views” have become intertwined in a person’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth. I’ve also learned that young people will sometimes have two social media accounts on the same platform. One is for the general public and parental viewing/oversight while the other “secret account” is for their private group of friends to post the things they don’t want mom and dad to see or read.

In my mass communication classes in college, I was drilled into me that we only see what the person behind the camera wants us to see. My professors in the 1980s were talking about news editors, publishers, and filmmakers. The internet has brought the power of mass communication to every person in the world and put it right in the palm of our hands. With our posts, tweets, and photos we project ourselves to the world. Our followers see and hear only what we choose to show them. So what am I choosing for others to see, and why?

In today’s chapter, the first thing we read about the young man who will become Israel’s first king is that he is tall and handsome and from a prominent family in the tribe of Benjamin. What a perfect description of an ideal political candidate. But what if underneath that handsome face and six-foot frame there lurks a tortured soul, hidden rage, or mental health issues? We only see what the author of 1 Samuel wants us to see. Just like me and my social media feed.

Over time, I have found myself posting far less on social media than I once did. It’s not that I made a specific rule for myself. I simply began asking myself honest questions about my motives and my choices, and I began to embrace that no one really needs to see a photo of my suitcase on a business trip or the cowboy guy on my flight. I want to be present with loved ones and friends in the moment, and less worried about making sure the world knows who I was with and what I was doing.

What do I want others to see? Just another wayfaring stranger with very normal problems, faults, and shortcomings. I’m following Jesus. I’m pressing on this earthly journey one day at a time, reading the Great Story, pondering things in the quiet, and trying to enjoy life and my good companions with whom I share this journey and whom I endeavor to love well.

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

“Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”

"Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" (CaD Rev 9) Wayfarer

The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands…
Revelation 9:20a (NIV)

I find it fascinating that our world continues to use Hitler and the Nazis as the ultimate metaphor for evil. Given their lust for power, their unbridled ambition, and the atrocities they unleashed on this earth, it’s an apt metaphor in many ways. I have heard it argued that true evil will not respond to anything but overpowering force. It could be argued that World War II is an example of that principle. We continue to hold Hitler and his Nazis as our favorite metaphor for evil. Of course, metaphor loses its power when it is applied loosely and flippantly in unwarranted situations, but that’s a different post for another day.

Today’s chapter describes the fifth and sixth “trumpet judgments” on the earth that John saw in his vision. The fifth is a plague of locusts another plague that parallels the plagues on Egypt in the time of Moses. The locusts are described with monstrous imagery and led by “the angel of the Abyss.” The locusts torture earth’s inhabitants until they beg to die.

When the sixth angel sounds its trumpet, four angels at the Euphrates River are loosed along with a countless multitude of mounted troops with horses that spew fire, smoke, and sulfur. One-third of the earth’s inhabitants are killed. While this plague does not have a parallel to the ten plagues of Egypt, its imagery had a clear parallel to Roman citizens in the first century. The Parthian Empire was right across the Euphrates River to the east of the Roman Empire, and the Parthians were the only enemy that the Roman Legions could not defeat. Parthia’s mounted archers could ride forward and shoot backward, and their unpredictable battle tactics made them one foe that Rome did not want to face. Romans feared the day that Parthia’s mounted army attacked and John’s vision would have directly stirred these fears.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve observed that it’s easy to get lost in the minute details of apocalyptic literature. I recall one arrogant professor I once had who famously lectured on the end times and sold volumes of his recordings on the subject. I remember some of his interpretations being so rooted in the geopolitical world of the cold war that I highly doubt they would make sense today.

Instead of getting buried in the minutia, I tend to pull back to try and see the big picture. I believe the rather obvious parallels between the judgments of Revelation and the plagues of Egypt are more than a coincidence. In the Exodus, God unleashed 10 plagues on Egypt in an effort to get a hard-hearted Pharaoh to repent and free the Hebrews from slavery. In Revelation God unleashes plagues on the earth in an effort to get hard-hearted humanity to repent and be free from the shackles of sin.

The hard-hearted Pharaoh refused to repent. So does humanity in John’s vision.

And so, I find my thoughts wandering back to the nature of evil and to history. The Nuremberg Trials and the flight of top Nazi officials to places like Argentina revealed how unrepentant and hard-hearted were the individuals who unleashed unspeakable atrocities on humanity for their own power and pride. To this day, the stories of powerful families and corporations who fueled the Nazi regime and remain unrepentant for their past continue to come out.

So in the quiet, I find myself thinking about the simple act of repentance. It means a change of heart that leads to a change in direction. It means to spiritually stop, turn, and go the other way. As Bob Dylan sings it: “Gonna change my way of thinkin’, make myself a different set of rules. Gonna put my good foot forward and stop being influenced by fools.” It’s what Pharaoh refused to do. It’s what Hitler’s henchmen refused to do. It’s what humanity refuses to do in the end times according to today’s chapter.

And, on this Monday morning, I once again find myself humbly admitting that I don’t know what every one of John’s visions means. I’m sorry that I can’t reveal it to you with smug certainty like my old professor and the multi-cassette volumes he was happy to sell to anyone. Here’s what I do know for certain. My heart, my thoughts, and my subsequent words and actions can easily become rooted in pride rather than humility, in selfishness rather than generosity, in anger rather than kindness, in vengeance rather than forgiveness, and in hatred rather than in love. Every day of this earthly journey is an opportunity for me to have the self-awareness to catch myself, stop, and choose to go in the opposite direction; To choose good rather than evil.

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

Gift, not Reward

Gift, not Reward (CaD Ps 127) Wayfarer

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1 (NIV)

Family is messy. It just is.

When I was a young man, I embarked on a fact-finding mission to better understand my families of origin. What I discovered was that underneath the veneer of stories that I’d been told (the good, polite, and acceptable ones) there was a whole lot of mess.

The Great Story is full of wisdom that reads like simple binary formulas. A+B=C.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.

I like simple formulas, and I’ve observed that most other human beings do too. That’s why name-it-and-claim-it televangelists get people to send them millions (“Give and you will receive!“). It’s how we get suckered into all sorts of things (“Just five minutes a day with the Ab Monster and you’ll have a six-pack like this dude!“). I’ve also observed and experienced that it’s how many institutional churches approach life. “Do this and you’ll experience God’s blessings; Don’t do that or you’ll suffer God’s punishment.” It’s no wonder the world is rejecting the church and screaming “It doesn’t work!”

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to the realization that the spiritual path, the path of wisdom, and following Jesus is not a simple math equation as it may appear on the surface and/or how it’s often presented. It’s more like actuarial science based on general rules, complex principles, earthly probabilities, percentages, and exceptions. Simple formulas are fubar’d when imperfect human beings enter the equation with our emotions, pride, passions, appetites, desires, fears, and free will.

Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.

It seems so simple that I want to name it and claim it. It appears so simple that when I witness someone’s child making poor choices it must be that his parents missed an ingredient in the good Christian, Focus-on-the-Family formula, or her behavior must reveal the proof I need that mom and dad are blowing it in the parental department. The simple train-up-a-child formula sounded so easy when my daughters were babes who were completely dependent on my absolute provision and authority. Then an adult child strikes out on her own path, making her own choices, and finding her own way. It looks nothing like the paternal expectations I anticipated as part of that simple formula when my head and heart were intoxicated with absolute authority over her life. It’s easy for me to feel cheated by what appeared to be simple math.

In my own life journey and experiences with messy family, Lady Wisdom has taught me a few things:

  • The path Jesus prescribed for His followers was never about moral perfection, an easy-life, and earthly abundance; It’s about selflessness, sacrifice, and love-in-action.
  • The only things I really control are my own thoughts, words, actions, and choices. The notion I control anything else is an illusion.
  • My family members are on their own spiritual journeys, just like me. If I want them to have grace and understanding with my shit, I have to have grace with theirs. If I want them to have patience and understanding as I navigate this stretch of life in my 50s, which I’ve never experienced before, then I have to let them navigate their 20s and 30s, which they’ve never experienced, with that same patience and understanding.
  • If I believe God is faithful and can be trusted, and I believe He is, then I can entrust others to God while I choose to let go of my personal expectations of them.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 127, is a song that the liner notes ascribe to Solomon, the son of King David. It is another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang on their trek to Jerusalem. It is both a celebration of family and a reminder that all of life’s blessings and securities are gifts from God, not the In the quiet this morning, I’m making a little mental inventory of the family stories embedded in the Great Story:

  • Lot was incestuous with his daughters.
  • Abraham slept with his concubine at his wife’s insistence and the consequences are still being felt today.
  • Jacob (and his mother) deceived his father and stole his brother’s birthright.
  • Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers.
  • David committed adultery and refused to deal with the incestuous rape his own son committed against his half-sister.
  • David’s son, Solomon, was the offspring of his scandalous, adulterous, conspiratorial marriage to Bathsheba and murder of her husband.

And its Solomon who the wrote the lyrics of today’s Psalm. For me, reading the lyrics of today’s chapter knowing the unvarnished truth of Solomon’s family story strips away the notion of simple spiritual formulas with it comes to family.

Family is messy. It just is.

There are many spiritual principles that influence the outcomes I generally experience on this life journey, both positively and negatively. But it’s not always a simple equation. I can build a home and family, but it still won’t cure the mess. Solomon knew that as well as anyone. He reminds me this morning that life’s blessings and securities are gifts, not rewards.

Holy Moments in the Dark

Holy Moments in Dark Places (CaD Ps 106) Wayfarer

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
    and glory in your praise.

Psalm 106:47 (NIV)

Yesterday, Wendy and I found ourselves discussing the concept of holiness as we enjoyed our weekly date at the local pub for pizza and a pint. It kind of picked up on what I discussed in my blog post a few weeks ago. In my experience, the concept of being “holy” has largely been reduced by the institutional church to mean “morally pure.” In my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that it means so much more than that.

Our conversation sprung out a friend sharing with us about a loved one who finds themselves in one of life’s dark valleys. Wendy and I both identified with the story because both of our journeys include stretches in dark places of our own choices and consequences. Much like our friend’s loved one, the respective dark valleys on life’s road were not characterized by any kind of moral purity.

Go to any twelve-step meeting and you’ll hear people tell their own stories about dark valleys on life’s road. You’ll also hear them share that sometimes one must hit rock-bottom before they spiritually wake up to the consequences of their actions and their need to change.

In Jesus’ famous story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother finds himself far from home, broke, alone, and literally wading in pig shit. In that rock-bottom moment Jesus shared:

“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

Wendy and I discussed that this very moment, in the midst of the dark valley, at rock-bottom, and knee-deep in pig shit, was a holy moment. That’s the way the spiritual journey often works. Holiness is not confined to the definition of moral purity found at the mountain-top of righteousness. Holiness can also be found in the spiritual awakening that often happens not at the summit of morality but in the muck of a shattered life.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 106, is the final song in Book IV of the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics we know as the Psalms. It is another summary review of the history of the Hebrews. As the song comes to its conclusion, the songwriter pens:

Save us, Lord our God,
    and gather us from the nations

This would indicate that this song was likely written from a place of exile when the Hebrew tribes had been scattered across the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. What’s different in this re-telling of the history compared to the one I just read last week is the heart of repentance. The songwriter finds himself far from home, broken, living amidst his enemies and he recognizes that this dark valley was part of the consequence of his peoples own poor choices. Like the Prodigal, like Wendy and me, the songwriter is having his own holy moment of spiritual awakening. He’s owning his part (and the part of his people) in landing himself in this dark valley. He’s making the spiritual turn.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about my own journey which includes holy moments that occurred both on spiritual mountain tops and sinful, dark valleys. King David wrote in another song (we haven’t gotten to it yet) that there’s nowhere that he could flee from God’s presence. Even in my lowest, darkest moments, God was not absent. It was there He helped awaken my spirit to my need to change the spiritual trajectory of my life.

It was a holy moment.

The Simple, Complex Mystery

The Simple, Complex Mystery (CaD Ps 37) Wayfarer

Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.

Psalm 37:27 (NIV)

A while back I found myself in a conversation with a friend who is a very strong Enneagram Type One. Ones have a very strong moral center with an instinctive “gut” for sensing right-and-wrong, black-and-white, and this influences their own lives. It also influences how they perceive and approach the rest of the world. I, however, am an Enneagram Type Four and Fours tend to see the world in the broad spectrum of gradients between black and white. We Fours live well in the gray, which gives us tremendous empathy for others wherever they find themselves on that spectrum.

The conversation with my friend basically boiled down to our contrasting temperaments. My friends saw the issue we were discussing in very simple, black-and-white terms which made things very simple for him. I saw the issue in all the subtle complexities that it presented for people in everyday realities. It was a spirited conversation that ended up with us agreeing on the essential issue but having to agree to disagree on what to do about the issue.

Along my life journey, I have struggled with simplistic contrasts. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are full of them. As children, we’re taught that Santa will find you “naughty” or “nice” which will be the determining factor in your Christmas haul. When we grow up there are all sorts of other binary ways we continue to approach life. In fact, we’re having major social upheaval in our world because of all sorts of issues that we and the media have reduced to simple binary, black-and-white issues. I’m “mask” or “no masks.” I’m “racist” or “BLM.” I’m “conservative” or “progressive.” I’m “Democrat” or “Republican.” And, we’re making choices about how we perceive and treat others based on how their binary choices line up against ours. It breaks my heart.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 37, I am confronted with the reality that even the Great Story often reduces life and matters of Spirit into simple, binary, black-and-white terms. The entire song is dedicated to contrasting the “righteous” and the “wicked” and bringing it down to almost Santa-like “naughty-or-nice” terms.

Simple contrasting metaphors are a foundational spiritual building block throughout the Great Story. In the days of Moses, God places before the Hebrew people “Life” or “Death” and asks them to choose. Hundreds of years later the prophet Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and asked the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If God is God, go his way. If Baal (an ancient deity in Mesopotamian cultures) is God, go his way.” Hundreds of years later, Jesus spoke of Judgement Day in terms of separating humanity into “sheep” (good) and the “goats” (bad).

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking back to the conversation with my Type One friend. In my spiritual journey, I learned that following Jesus begins with very simple “yes” or “no.” Here is another simple, contrasting metaphor Jesus used:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)

My journey with Jesus began on a cold February night when, to the lyrics of modern psalm proclaiming “I have decided to follow Jesus,” I made that simple decision. I don’t know how to describe the way my life changed that night. There were all sorts of simple binary choices I then began to make about my life, words, relationship, and behavior based on that foundational yes-or-no decision.

At the same time, the further I traveled down life’s road I found that the journey of being a Jesus follower has been a never-ending, daily experiment in figuring out what it means to continue walking that “narrow road.” Sometimes I find things coming down to a very simple black-and-white choice. More often, I find a gradient of complexity in things. So, seeing the world in simple binary terms isn’t such a simple binary issue. I’m sure my Type One friends find it much easier than I do, but that only feeds my point. There are nine Enneagram Types and we’re not all Ones.

In the quiet this morning I find myself back at the mystery of things being “yes, and.” This journey of following Jesus is both simple and infinitely complex. Lest my Type Four heart get lost in the infinite mystery of living in gray, I always have Psalm 37 to pull me back and remind me that sometimes life does simply come back to a black-or-white choice to do either the thing I know is right or the thing I know is wrong, recognizing that there are natural consequences of life and Spirit that will follow the choice I make.

Another day of choices in a very complex world lies before me. Pray I simply make good ones.

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