Tag Archives: Elijah

Mentors, Mantles, and the Mayhem of Transition

[Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
2 Kings 2:13-15 (NRSV)

Transitions are never easy. Along life’s journey I am constantly finding comfort in the status quo. What “has been” seems safe and secure in the “now.” Change skews the equilibrium. Anxiety bubbles to the surface. What “will be” suddenly seems uncertain because the “now” is no longer what “has been.” Anxiety quickly morphs into fear. I try to maintain the outward appearance of stability despite the fact my spirit is reeling like a drunken sailor. Fear subtly begins to leak out of my sub-conscious into the open in all sorts of unexpected (and often unhealthy) ways as my spirit searches for ways to cope with uncertainty.

In my work I often find myself on-site with clients amidst the whirlwinds of change. Corporate acquisitions, changes in leadership, changes in technology, changes in team, and changes in jobs are all realities that my clients struggle with in their workplace. There are even companies I know for whom the destabilizing effects of change become the status quo. I get to witness the internal and external effects of the ceaseless churn on individuals in my coaching sessions and conversations.

There are many layers of meaning in the events described in today’s chapter. I could write a weeks worth of blog posts (or more) peeling back and exploring every one of them. The main theme of today’s chapter, however, is transition. It is an event that our culture regularly references without realizing the source. When the great prophet Elijah is whisked up to heaven in a fiery tornado,  his “mantle” falls to the ground. Mantle refers to a loose cloak worn over clothes. His protégé prophet, Elisha, “takes up the mantle” of leadership from his mentor, Elijah. Elisha picks up his mentor’s discarded mantle and immediately uses the mantle to perform the same miracle Elijah had just performed with it before his dramatic exit. The act confirms to the team of prophets witnessing all of this that there has suddenly been a huge transition in the executive ranks of the prophetic organization. The corporation of prophets suddenly finds themselves with a new CEO.

What’s fascinating is that the first act among the corporation of prophets is sub-conscious anxiety oozing out into well-cloaked organizational action:

“Let’s appoint a committee to go look for Elijah. We saw him whisked up in a whirlwind, but no one saw him land. We need to verify that he is really gone.” (Because finding Elijah and returning to the comfortable status quo would feel much better than the anxiety I’m feeling about Elisha running things!)

Elisha warns that the actions are a waste of time and resources, but the search committee is adamant to the point exasperating the new leader. Fear does funny things to people.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions. I’ve been through many of them professionally and personally on this life journey. I’ve come to recognize the familiar, internal pangs of anxiety and fear that accompany these abrupt changes of course. They don’t necessarily get easier, but I’d like to hope that I’ve matured in how I respond to them inside and out. I’ve come to understand that what “has been” never completely passes away. It simply becomes the foundation on what “will be” is going to be built. I simply have to hold the tension of “now” with faith in what I believe to be true no matter what was, what is, or what is to come: I can trust that God’s got this.

‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Isaiah 41:10

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6

featured image: detail from the St. John’s Bible

The Archetype of the Lone Stranger

 The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”

They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
2 Kings 1:7-8 (NIV)

Wendy and I have no cable or satellite television at our place on the lake. We can’t even get a digital broadcast signal. So, when we’re at the lake we tend to watch movies from our collection of DVDs. A while back we watched a young Clint Eastwood in one the spaghetti westerns that made him famous (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, A Fist full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Hang ‘Em HighHigh Plains Drifter). His character became known to audiences as “the man with no name.” Clint Eastwood became the iconic lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and becomes justice incarnate.

The lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and brings justice on the gang of bad guys is a popular archetype in our stories and film. We see it in our classic heroes like The Lone Ranger and our comic book heroes like The Dark Knight. Clint Eastwood would continue to embody that archetype, updated for the “modern West” in his Dirty Harry movies of the 1970s. Akira Kurosawa used the archetype in an entire genre of Japanese Samurai movies (e.g. Yojimbo) which were sometimes translated into different American settings like the prohibition era story in Last Man Standing.

Writers and filmmakers use “archetype” characters and stories because they resonate deeply within us. We connect with them, and we love them. There seems to be something deeply woven spiritually and psychologically in our creation which connects to The Great Story God is telling in and through history. The psychologist Jung spent much of his career studying it.

This morning on my chapter-a-day journey I waded into the ancient historical book of 2 Kings which, of course, follows 1 Kings. So, we’re picking up a story in the middle of the telling. Kind of like starting the Star Wars saga with The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s fascinating about the story we read in today’s chapter is that from ancient days we have the archetype lone stranger come to life. The nation of Israel had been torn in two. The northern kingdom of Israel and its long string of evil kings and queens (Israel’s Queen Jezebel became the archetype of the evil queen a’ la Snow White) had become a cesspool of corruption, debauchery and idolatry. The nation had abandoned faith in the one God of Abraham and Moses. They had given themselves to all sorts of local gods with their rituals of sex and violence. The king of Israel sends his messengers to one of the priests of one of these local gods to have his fortune told.

Then on the dusty road in the wilderness the king’s messengers meet a lone drifter; A wild-looking man, a man with  no name, who wore a coat make out of camel-hair and big leather belt. Elijah speaks God’s truth and when the corrupt king sends his hoard of bad guys to get the lone Elijah, justice strikes in the form of lightning from heaven.

All good stories are a reflection of The Great Story. Elijah, the original High Plains Drifter.

This morning I’m thinking about the archetype of the lone stranger. I think it resonates within us all for different reasons. There are times on life’s journey that I feel alone and preyed upon by systems and powerful people with no recourse. I long for someone, anyone to show up and make the wrong right. I also think there are times in life when I feel like I’m standing alone against the crowd. I’m desperately trying to do the right thing, but the odds (and seemingly everyone else) are hopelessly stacked against me.

I’m thankful in the quiet this morning for Elijah and the archetype of the lone stranger. It’s the archetype of Jesus, the stranger from heaven; The lone savior who single-handedly took on my sin, and the sin of the world. Jesus, who tells me, even when the bad guys are surrounding me and the odds are stacked against me, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And some days, if my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open, I realize that I have the opportunity to be “the lone stranger” for some one else. As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.”

 

 

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Unique People for God’s Unique Purposes

The Monuments Men Cover…and [King] Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator.(Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had suppliedthem with food and water.) 1 Kings 18:3-4 (NIV)

This past summer I read The Monuments Men by Bret Witter and Robert Edsel. It is the book upon which the movie by the same name was based. One of the more intriguing pieces of the story was person of Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett played a character in the movie based on Valland). There was nothing particularly remarkable about her. She is described as the type of person who blended in and did not attract attention. She was, however, a woman of acute intellect, strong character, and indomitable courage.

Valland found herself a clerk in the midst of the Nazi’s looting of the world’s artistic treasures. A passionate lover of art, she literally risked her life to secretly document which paintings and works of art were stolen and where they were taken. The men who served with the Monuments Men were rightfully praised for their efforts, but were it not for Rose Valland being in the position she held and having the courage to do what she did, many of the world’s great works of art would no longer exist.

As I travel this life journey, I am intrigued to observe how people find themselves uniquely placed in situations and circumstances in which they are able to use their God given gifts and abilities in order to accomplish specific purposes. I thought about Obadiah and Elijah as I read today’s chapter. Here are two very different characters in two very different circumstances who are part of the same events. Elijah the prophet is a reclusive, unpredictable outsider living in the wilderness far away from the centers of political and religious power. Obadiah, on the other hand, is a polished and educated insider working in the administrative heart of the corrupt and evil monarchy. Very different men, very different places, but both uniquely suited to fulfill God’s purposes. God used them both, and they each had a unique job to perform.

I have found that we like to place God, His followers and His purposes into neat little prescriptive boxes that fit our comfortable paradigms. I am reminded this morning by Elijah, by Obadiah, and by Rose Valland, that God uses vastly different individuals of His own choosing and calling to accomplish purposes that lie beyond our comprehension.

 

The Intriguing Person of the Prophet Elijah

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...
The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)

The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.

Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.

Chapter-a-Day 2 Chronicles 17

[Jehoshaphat] was single-minded in following God. 2 Chronicles 17:6a (MSG)

When reading 2 Chronicles, it’s important to remember that the nation of Israel was divided in two parts. While we are reading about the kings of Judah (the southern part), the events we read about in the books of the Kings is happening simultaneously in the northern kingdom. Sometimes the parallel events have light to shed on our reading.

Reading about Jehoshaphat’s single-minded devotion to God is a stark contrast to King Ahab, who was on the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel during that time. While Jehoshaphat led the people in devotion to God alone, the prophet Elijah gathered the people of the northern kingdom together and called them to account for their double mindedness:

Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!” 1Kings 18:21 (MSG)

The human eye cannot see darkness unless it is contrasted by light. In the light of Jehospaphat’s devotion, the darkness of Ahab and Jezebel came into greater focus. When we are single-minded in following God, we become the “light of the world” and the darkness stands in stark contrast to our thoughts, words, and love in action.

Today, I’m thinking about my own life. How single-minded am I? Is my life the light that God intends? Do my thoughts, words, and actions stand in contrast to the darkness – or does it all just sort of blend together in a shade of gray?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and WTLphotos

Chapter-a-Day 1 Kings 19

Living on Memory Lane. So Elisha left; he took his yoke of oxen and butchered them. He made a fire with the plow and tackle and then boiled the meat—a true farewell meal for the family. Then he left and followed Elijah, becoming his right-hand man. 1 Kings 19:21 (MSG)

Many years ago I lived in a small town and, as a warm-up to my exercise regimen, I shot hoops at the local YMCA. There was a group of men there who played a pick-up game almost every day. Though I shot the basketball, by myself, on a nearby court, I was never invited to join in their game. The one time I asked if I could play, I quickly learned that I was not welcome. Nevertheless, I would find myself at the gym at the same time each week working out and shooting hoops on another court. I listened to their conversations and it became clear that these men had all played basketball together for the local high school many years earlier. They got together multiple times each week to relive "the glory days." Without fail, I would over hear stories of their high school games, their parties, their girlfriends, and their adolescent adventures.

Everyone who knows me will testify that I enjoy a trip down Memory Lane once in a while, but these guys decided to build themselves a subdivision and live there.

As I read today's chapter, I found it interesting that Elisha burned his plow. He was striking out on a whole new leg of life's journey with Elijah. There would be no going back. He burned the tools of his former trade just to make sure. Sometimes we need to let go of the things that hold us back from taking the next step.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and welfl