Tag Archives: Civilization

The “Human” Problem

The "Human" Problem (CaD 1 Sam 8) Wayfarer

But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
1 Samuel 8:19-20 (NIV)

As a youth, I was always involved in student government. I served regularly from junior high and into my college years. There was a period of time in those years that I dreamed of running for elected office as an adult. A few years ago I ran into one of my high school classmates at a coffee shop. As we enjoyed a casual conversation and caught up on each other’s lives she asked me if I still thought about running for office. I told her that the desire left me a very long time ago. She graciously teased me about reconsidering. It was kind of her.

Along my life journey, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem with any human government is the fact that humans are involved. It has been famously observed in history that power corrupts, and it is true. Even with all the checks and balances the founders of the United States placed in the Constitution to diminish the possibility, an objective glance at Washington D.C. reveals all kinds of waste, fraud, and abuse that result from corruption at all levels.

In today’s chapter, the Hebrew people come to Samuel, who was leading the tribes as a Judge, and demand that he appoint a king and establish a monarchy. This didn’t come out of nowhere. It’s been brewing for some time.

What I found fascinating in today’s chapter was the fact that what brought the issue of national governance to a head was the fact that Samuel’s own sons, whom Samuel had appointed as his successors, were corrupt, just as the sons of Eli had been corrupt in the time of Samuel’s childhood and youth. I don’t think it is a coincidence. It’s a pattern and a very human one, just as it is tempting to believe that another form of human government will be better than the one under which you’re living. But I cannot escape the “human problem” on this earth. I can discuss the relative merits and downsides of every form of human government that’s ever been tried in the history of civilization, but there are always downsides to every system of government because human beings are involved and no matter how much I want to believe that humans can be good and altruistic history has proven that at some point the one(s) in power take advantage of their power in the system to personally benefit.

This is what God tells Samuel to remind his fellow Hebrews. Having a king will bring certain benefits, but the monarchy is also going to have negative consequences that the people and their descendants will experience acutely. This is correct. The rest of 1 Samuel and the next five books in the Great Story (2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles) are a testament to the truth of Samuel’s words.

As I ponder these things I am reminded of the Apostle Paul who was, himself, a citizen of Rome and took full advantage of the exclusive rights and benefits that came with it in his day. He also reminded Jesus’ followers in Philippi that they were citizens of God’s heavenly Kingdom. In that same vein, I consciously consider myself as having dual citizenship with the rights and responsibilities that come with both U.S. citizenship and citizenship in God’s eternal kingdom. One of those citizenships will end at some point while the other will not.

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

“What Do You Expect?!”

"What Do You Expect?!" (CaD Rev 6) Wayfarer

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 6:15-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I find ourselves on that section of life’s road in which we get to watch and walk with my parents and her grandma as they traverse the home stretch of this earthly journey, and experience all that happens to the human body as it ages and begins to wear out. There is nothing novel or new about this progression. Ever since the third chapter of Genesis in which God tells Adam and Eve “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” human beings who live long enough have experienced the natural breakdown of the human body and mind until death finally catches up with us.

On our visits to Wendy’s 95-year-old grandmother, I’ve listened and observed as Wendy listens to grandma, who sometimes laments over her aches, pains, and nagging ailments that limit her quality of life. Wendy, ever the Enneagram Eight “challenger” that God made her, responds: “Your body is ninety-five years old, grandma! What do you expect?!”

In today’s chapter, we find John still in heaven’s throne room and Jesus (a.k.a. the Lamb) begins to open the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. As each seal on the scroll is broken, something awful is revealed to John. Conquest, war, famine, death, injustice, and cataclysmic natural disasters. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like what’s revealed to me when I open my news app each morning. Hold that thought.

A couple of observations. First, the prophetic images John sees here are not new or novel in the Great Story. Centuries before John’s vision, the prophets introduced these visionary images. Zechariah also saw the four horsemen (Zech 1 & 8). The souls under the altar connect directly with the Hebrew altar of sacrifice (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). The natural catastrophes mentioned were also referred to by Isaiah, Joel, Haggai, and even mentioned by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. So I think it’s important for me to understand that everything in this vision of “end times” has been foreseen all along. It’s all connected and it’s all been foreseen for a long time. Even Jesus described it:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:6-14 (NIV)

Next, I have often stated that human history in the Great Story is very much like one long life cycle. Creation and time are layered with meaning. God’s people have long understood that one day is like a lifetime from birth (sunrise) to death (night). Followers of Jesus have seen that a week is like a metaphorical lifetime of Christ in which every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’ death and every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that launches us into a “new” week. In the same way, each year has the same pattern. In my chapter-a-day treks through ancient books like Exodus and Joshua, I often made the case that humanity was in the toddler stage of history. Civilization acted like immature, ignorant, and petulant children who are driven by their appetites, emotions, and base instincts. If I follow that metaphor to its logical conclusion, then Revelation is a vision of humanity in the throes of death, the ultimate conclusion of sin’s curse on humanity that was declared in Genesis chapter three.

And this brings me back to Wendy addressing her grandmother’s shock and lamentation over her body’s slow, uncomfortable decline. “What do you expect?!”

In the quiet this morning, I find that an apt question with regard to the bleak description that Jesus, John, and the prophets foreshadow regarding humanity’s final chapters. Broken and sinful humanity living in our civilization and the kingdoms of this world ruled by the “prince of this world” (as Jesus named the evil one) decline into the throes of death.

Pessimistic, I know, and a bit depressing for the one who has no hope.

But, there is hope! And we’ll eventually get there at the end of this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation. Until then, the journey may seem like a long, slow slog of decline towards death. Hang in there. As Bob Dylan sings, “Just remember, that death is not the end.”

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

Between Quiet and Noise

Between Quiet and Noise (CaD Matt 14) Wayfarer

After [Jesus] had dismissed [the crowd], he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone…
Matthew 14:23 (NIV)

I remember seeing a news story many years ago that talked about a special breed of audiophiles who try to get high-definition recordings of pure nature sounds. They’re the ones who record the sounds that end up on our noise machines or sound effect apps that help us sleep at night. This particular news story was about the fact that their job is getting increasingly harder. The problem is that the noise of civilization is crowding in everywhere, making it difficult to find the pure sounds of creation without planes, trains, automobiles, and cells phones interrupting.

Caught between the quiet and the noise of life. Now there’s a metaphor that resonates with me.

Today’s chapter begins with the unjust and tragic execution of John the Baptist, who was killed because a spoiled, drunken, frat-boy king got turned on watching his niece/step-daughter shake her booty at his high society soiree. Promising to grant her any wish, her mother prompted her to ask for John’s head on a platter.

John’s disciples bury the body and immediately find Jesus to tell him the news. I find it so easy to dehumanize Jesus as I read and reread the stories. Today, I found myself imagining Jesus’ reaction to the news. John was Jesus’ cousin, born within a few months of one another. Their mothers experienced miraculous conceptions and pregnancies together. They knew one another since they were kids. Our daughters Taylor and Madison each have a cousin born within months of one another. I’ve witnessed the special bond they continue to have. That was Jesus and John. Just a few chapters ago, Jesus said of his cousin, “There is no one greater than John!”

When Jesus hears the news, Matthew records that He immediately got in a boat and withdrew to a solitary place. How human. Being fully human, Jesus is going to grieve in all of the emotional stages of human grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, then acceptance. He wants to be alone.

In the quiet privacy of a boat, Jesus seeks an equally quiet, solitary place out in nature to be alone, to grieve. But He can’t escape the din of civilization:

Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns.

By the time Jesus lands onshore in a solitary place, the crowd is already assembled. He can’t escape.

I felt that tension this morning as I read about Jesus healing the sick, working miracles, and feeding the thousands. Inside, He’s grieving. Inside, He’s tired. Inside, He just wants to be left alone.

The need to be alone in the quiet leads Jesus to send the disciples on ahead in the boat. Jesus dismisses the crowd.

After Jesus had dismissed the crowd, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself identifying with the tension that Jesus must have felt at that moment. I feel the pull to quiet. I need to withdraw, to feel, to ponder, to pray, to rest, to sit in the silence. But, life doesn’t stop. The task list that’s never empty, the needs of loved ones, the deadlines at work, the commitments I’ve made, the friends’ requests, the responsibilities of everyday life… every time I withdraw to a solitary place, I find them all noisily waiting for me when I arrive.

Jesus had compassion. Jesus took care of the crowds, but He didn’t give up on His need for quiet. If anything, the crowds only intensified His determination to make it happen. No crowds, no disciples even.

“Hey! Everyone? Leave me.”

Along this life journey, I’ve learned that quiet time is necessary. I may not always succeed in shutting out the world and finding the quiet. I may find the quiet only to find it encroached by interruptions. Like Jesus, I don’t want to get angry with the interrupters. I want to be compassionate. I also don’t want to give up seeking quiet. It may just have to intensify my effort to find it.

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

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

Living in This Time and Place

2015 Pella Tulip Time 039Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. Acts 6:1 (NRSV)

I spoke with my parents last night on the phone. Just this past week they put a deposit down on a retirement apartment that is part of a larger community and care facility. Over the past couple of weeks I have toured three different facilities with them. We have discussed their options and their preferences as well as the major shift life is taking for them.

It has struck me in the midst of this process how our relationship has changed over the years. It seems like yesterday I was seeking their help, their wisdom and their insights as I made major life decisions. This time around I find that they have sought my help, wisdom, and insight in their major life decision. I realize that we are at a very different stage of this life journey.

Along my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, I have heard some who speak in idyllic terms regarding the church as described in the book of Acts. They speak of the events, the miracles and the outpouring of the Spirit as a pinnacle from which we have fallen; an ideal for which we should strive. The further I get in my journey the more foolish I find this line of thinking.

We live in a different chapter of the story, in a different time, and a different place. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but human civilization is ever changing. How our heavenly Father relates to we His children will naturally change across time just as my relationship with my parents will change across time. Looking back across the story from Genesis to Acts we find that the way God intersected, communicated and related to humanity changed from creation, to the Exodus, to the period of the Judges, to the time of the monarchy and the prophets, to the period before Jesus was born, to the time of Jesus, and to the time we are studying in Acts. To say that the church today should be like the church in the book of Acts is like saying that the time of King David should have been more like the time of Noah.

I found it interesting this morning that Dr. Luke is sure to mention that things were not all signs and wonders. The Jesus followers who were Hebrews from Greece were hacked off because their widows weren’t getting their share of the communal welfare program. The more things change, the more they stay the same. People are people. “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus said,  “you’ll find me in their midst.” That is a good thing. We need a referee because where two or three gather you’ll also find conflict.

I’m grateful for the times we are living in. I’m grateful for my relationship with God. I’m grateful for my relationship with my parents. We are blessed to experience some really great things in our day and age, and at the same time we face unique challenges that those living through the book of Acts couldn’t possibly fathom. Such is life. I am not called to live in another time and place, but to walk the journey set before me in this time and place.

Leaderless

Français : La Mort de Saül et de Jonathan
The Death of Saul and Jonathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When all the Israelites in the valley saw that the army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them. 1 Chronicles 10:7 (NIV)

My daughter, Taylor, and I had a Father’s Day date this past Sunday afternoon. We spent an hour and a half talking and catching up over a bite, a beer, and some ice cream. As we stood in line for ice cream we talked about the pain and confusion many people experience on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Taylor has been working for a non-profit art program that works with juveniles who are in the court system. She has many kids she works with who have never known a father figure of any kind. Some kids, she shared, have a birth mother, step mother, and foster mother and not one of them wants anything to do with the child. I tried to imagine how confusing it must be for these kids to imagine celebrating a mother or father.

Along my life journey I’ve noticed that there are certain themes which emerge in my thinking and writing during particular seasons and stretches. When I read a chapter each day there are nuggets in the text that resonate with me because of the things on which my brain has been ruminating. So it was this morning when I stumbled upon the verse above. Left without a leader, the entire social system of the Israelites fell apart. Without a leader who could organize and rally them, the army fled and left the people in the villages vulnerable. Without anyone to defend them, the villagers fled their homes and town for fear of being killed by the enemy. The enemy took over the abandoned towns as the villagers scattered across the land seeking safety and shelter. It sounds like chaos.

With that mental picture in mind, I thought of the kids with whom Taylor is working and the parallel between the two systems. The reality is that when a family is left without a strong leader who can organize and rally its members, a family system breaks down into chaos and leave the weakest members vulnerable. The entire system and each individual in it is open to occupation by negative forces and is threatened by isolation, fear, and the primal need for survival.

This morning, in the quiet, my mind continues to contemplate the theme of parents, children, and family systems. Perhaps its the combination of celebrating Mother’s Day and Father’s Day over the past several weeks. Perhaps it’s the transition we’ve made in recent years to having independent, adult children or the experience of entering back into living with and leading a teenager. Whatever the reason, this morning I’m again grateful for the strong leadership of my parents throughout the journey and I’m motivated to be a strong leader for my family system even though that role and its responsibilities change drastically over time.