Tag Archives: Epic

Jezebel’s Epic End

“Throw her down!” Jehu said. So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
2 Kings 9:33 (NIV)

I have long been a fan of Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy for the epic story it tells across life and generations. Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed introducing friends to the original film over a feast of spaghetti and cannoli, complete with some good Italian red wine.

One of the things that makes a great story is when it is layered with truth and meaning. Epic stories are mines that yield new treasure each time you descend into them. With each telling they reveal something you hadn’t seen before. Yet, even with all of the layers of meaning the narratives of great stories are typically built on something quite simple.

The Godfather epic might be summed up with Jesus’ simple words to his disciple, Peter: “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” It is a generational tale in which the characters give themselves to “the sword” with what they believe are the best of intentions to protect those they love dearest. Their course, however, only serves to destroy the very things they tried to protect.

This came to mind in the quiet this morning as I read today’s chapter in the handwritten text of The St. John’s Bible. The stories of the ancient kings of Israel and Judah are epic stories, though I find that I have to move beyond the scribe’s text and descend into the story before I begin to see the layers.

The story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, belongs in the same genre of epic stories of those who live and die by the sword. Their tale is about lust for power, corruption, vengeance and blood.  Today’s chapter is the closing scene on their story. Ahab is dead and Jezebel feels her power slipping away as the leader of a coup d’état reaches her stronghold. Jezebel goes back to her tried and true playbook, putting on her make-up and doing her hair so as to seduce her way out of the corner where her own nefarious actions have placed her. But true to Jesus’ observation, the way of the sword ends badly for those who follow that path. The power of seduction fades and becomes impotent. Jezebel’s very own servants, no doubt weary of her wickedness, are only too willing to join the coup, chuck her out the window, and watch the dogs devour her dead flesh.

This morning I’m thinking about epic stories and the way they reveal truths about life and soul. This week at the lake Wendy and I enjoyed much conversation with our adult daughters. Along the meandering path of our discussions was the observation that we humans never seem content with “enough.” Vito Corleone and Jezebel followed the insatiable way of the sword, violently taking all they could for themselves believing that it would provide security of position and provision. They ignored the reality that when you violently take from others there will eventually be others who will violently take it from you.

A Few Thoughts on Prophecy…

Hazael went to meet Elisha, taking with him as a gift forty camel-loads of all the finest wares of Damascus. He went in and stood before him, and said, “Your son Ben-Hadad king of Aram has sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

Elisha answered, “Go and say to him, ‘You will certainly recover.’ Nevertheless,the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die.” He stared at him with a fixed gaze until Hazael was embarrassed. 
2 Kings 8:9-11 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I have had people speak to me, prophetically, about things that they claimed would happen, or be true, in my life. In fact, it happened to me just yesterday. Sitting down to coffee with a friend and colleague, he started the conversation with, “By the way, my wife had a prophetic word for you.” What it was I’ll keep to myself for now. If there’s anything I’ve learned from experience (and from Shakespeare’s Scottish play) it’s that there are both wise and foolish ways to handle prophetic words.

I’m sure there are those reading this post who think the whole notion of prophecy (e.g. someone knowing and proclaiming something that’s unknowable about the future or about another person), is a bunch of hocus-pocus nonsense. You can’t journey your way through the Great Story God is telling, however, and deny the fact that prophecy is an integral part of the telling. From Isaiah to Malachi, there are 17 books of God’s Message written by prophets. Jesus gave a nod to prophecy when He said that He came to “fulfill the Law and the prophets.” When Paul lists out the spiritual gifts that Holy Spirit manifests in Jesus’ followers, prophecy is smack-dab in the center of the list.

Beyond God’s Message, I have found the prophetic to be part of human experience. Our epic stories always use the prophetic as a device in their telling. From Homer’s Odyssey (Penelope’s Dream) to Shakespeare (i.e. Hamlet‘s Ghost and the Weird Sisters of Macbeth) to Lord of the Rings (“thus saith Malbeth the Seer“) and the Harry Potter saga (“Neither can live while the other survives“) the prophetic is everywhere. Then there are the mystical prophets of history that continue to be pop culture favorites like Nostradamus and the Rasputin. Look back through our history and our stories and you’ll find prophecy all over the place.

Prophecy makes for some dramatic moments. The story in today’s chapter reads like a climactic scene right out of an epic movie.

A man named Hazael, who was a servant of the King of Aram, comes to the prophet Elisha to ask if the King, his master, will recover from an illness. Elisha at first tells Hazael to inform the king that he will, in fact, recover from the illness.

Now, you have to imagine the scene. Elisha glares at Hazael with a long, penetrating look. He’s got an icy gaze like Michael Corleone in The Godfather. The look from Elisha cuts right through Hazael as the tense silence is filled with low, ominous sounding music swelling beneath the scene. Suddenly things are getting really, really uncomfortable…

“Nevertheless,the Lord has revealed to me that he will in fact die,” Elisha says in a slow sonorous statement that hangs out in space and drips with the prophetic.

Elisha continues his Michael Corleone stare. Shame is all over Hazael’s face. He can’t look at Elisha. His eyes dart back and forth and to the ground. His hand fumbles in his pocket for his fidget spinner…

Can you see it? Man, what a moment.

The King of Aram must have had the 24 hour flu because the very next day (in Macbeth like fashion, I might add) Hazael kills his master and assumes the throne of Aram. This morning I find myself mulling over whether Hazael had already conspired to kill his master the next day, or if Elisha’s prophetic revelation pushed him over the edge. That’s a great conversation for Wendy and me to have over breakfast this morning.

The story also has me mulling over prophesy in broader terms. I do believe in prophesy. Not only because it’s such a part of the Great Story, but also because I’ve had too many experiences with it to be utterly dismissive. I have also learned, however, that I’ve got to handle the prophetic wisely.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. When someone shares a prophetic word with me I receive it, but hold it very loosely. False prophesy is every bit a part of our stories as well. I don’t want to be too quick to cling and I don’t want to be too quick to reject. Chill, let it sit, and contemplate. Pray. Mull. Chew.
  2. I will share the prophesy with my closest, most discerning friends who know me well, who know my journey, and who in my experience have proven wisdom. Their reactions to what ever prophetic word I’ve been given tell me a lot.
  3. I never try to make what’s been prophesied happen. That’s the road to tragedy (just ask Lady Macbeth and her husband).
  4. I confess to myself that prophetic messages can be layered with meaning and may have a very different interpretation than what I’m thinking. The scholars of Jesus’ day read the prophets and had a very different picture of Messiah than the one Jesus fulfilled. It would be just as easy for me to hear a prophetic word and interpret it one way (e.g. the way I want it to mean) when its true meaning is something altogether different.
  5. I continue to repeat step one. I continue to hold on to the prophesy, but I hold it loosely. I contemplate and consider, but I keep pressing forward in my journey day-by-day. Obsessing on the prophetic usually leads to paralysis which leads nowhere fast. Some of the most ineffectual people I’ve ever known are those who’ve mired themselves and their lives in the prophetic. This is another place where I find I must put the “faith” in  “faith journey.” There is a flow to life and story. What will be will be. The prophesy someone gave me will happen or not. I’ve got to keep pressing forward.

And now, it’s time to do just that. If you’re reading this (thank you) I hope you have a great day today.

 

 

Prophetic Pattern, Hero’s Journey, and the Belly of the Whale

 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
    and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
    and flow from all the hills,
    and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.”
Amos 9:13-14a (NIV)

Life sends us all into places we don’t expect or desire. This is a journey and every journey includes both ups and downs. A friend who is a regular reader and fellow wayfarer recently referenced Joseph Campbell’s outline of the hero’s journey in a comment on one of my posts. This prompted me to refresh my memory of Campbell’s work, in which he explores the power of our myths and epic tales in understanding both ourselves and our stories.

Follow the path of this journey closely and you will recall specific episodes from all our favorite epic heroes from Harry Potter to Luke Skywalker to Bilbo Baggins. Yes there is treasure and reward at the end of the tale as well as magic and adventure along the way. Yet, the journey also includes reluctance, fear, trials, flights from danger, the need of courage, and a final battle. How often I appreciate the trials and struggles of my favorite epic heroes but want to shortcut past the trials and battles right to the treasure and reward in my own life.


Infographic: Hero's Journey | Venngage
Chart courtesy of Sara McGuire. See this on Venngage Infographics.


Just as there is a pattern to the hero’s journey, there is also a pattern to the poems and visions of the ancient prophets. Their prophetic visions are mostly filled with doom, gloom, and predictions of pestilent woe. They don’t mince words in their warnings or their calls to repentance and spiritual reformation. For this reason, I know many who prefer to avoid reading or studying the prophets altogether. It often feels like such a downer.

Yet the prophetic pattern almost always ends with redemption and hope. The poetic visions of the prophets are eucatastrophic in nature. Yes, we make a mess of things and that mess will lead us through consequences that produce all of the dark moments of any hero’s journey. At the end, however, the divine light shines in the darkness. Hope breaks through the dark clouds when we least expect it. Redemption graciously appears and leads us to the reward and treasure.

In today’s chapter Amos ends his volume of prophetic poems in the same pattern. After slogging through eight chapters of doom we end with the hope of restoration, repair, blessing, and abundance.

I confess that I begin this day of my journey feeling a bit like I’m in the belly of the whale. I have a sense that I’m moving toward a prescribed place, but here in the belly of the whale I can’t really feel the momentum, I can’t see where this is all headed, and I don’t particularly like the environment at the moment. It is dark, cramped and a particularly odorous stench. Yet, Amos and Campbell remind me this morning that doing a stretch in the belly of the whale is part of life’s journey just as it is part of any good story. Hope and redemption lie ahead. I will cross the threshold at the right place and time. Faith is required at the moment, as well as perseverance.

Pinching my nose. Slogging on.

Thanks for your companionship.

Apocalypse, World View and Work

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time?
Matthew 24:44-45 (NIV)

Whether we know it or not, each one of us approach life with a certain ingrained perspective. It’s called a world view and we each have one. Our world view determines how we perceive and react to events and circumstances around us. If something happens that doesn’t fit neatly into our world view, it can be rather disconcerting.

I thought a lot about world view this past November when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the Presidency. It was an event that most of us never could have imagined happening. We know that anyone can run for President, but we’ve come to expect from history that the winner is always going to be a member of the political establishment.

The election results definitely shook things up, and with it came all sorts of apocalyptic thinking. I still feel it simmering beneath the surface of news articles, posts, and current events. Along my life journey I’ve noticed this pattern in human behavior. If we’re rattled hard enough we go into doomsday mode.

As I sat in my hotel room on election night at 1:00 a.m. swapping text messages with Wendy and Taylor I got to thinking about world views. Among followers of Jesus the prevailing world view has been a predominantly medieval one in which things are going to get worse and worse and worse and worse until the very end when Jesus returns in a eucatastrophic moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a teacher of medieval literature and his epics reflect this world view. Saruman is a great example of how Tolkien viewed modern man felling the innocence of the trees to fuel his machines of war. (Interesting to think how serving in WWI and living through WWII may have affected his world view. ) Darkness grows and spreads until the forces of good stand on the field of battle outnumbered and hopeless. Then at the darkest moment something happens to miraculously bring about unexpected victory. That’s what he called eucatastrophe.

There is another world view among followers of Jesus, however, that holds that things are actually getting better [cue: The Beatles’ It’s Getting Better All the Time]. It’s the “glass is actually half-full” world view. This world view holds that despite the headlines and 24 hour news channels skewing our perspective by bombarding us with the latest tragedies from around the globe, the situation world-wide is actually better today than at any point in human history. There’s less disease, life spans are the longest they’ve ever been, things are safer than they’ve ever been globally, and food production is the highest it’s ever been around the globe. Poverty world-wide is lower than its ever been in history and what we would call “poor” in today’s world is far different (and better) than our definition just a generation or two ago.

In today’s chapter Jesus gives his followers some generalities about what’s to come in the future. It reads like the medieval world view with wars, famines, false messiahs, and Jesus returning when no one is expecting it. Even in the description Jesus admits that He does not know the exact timing of events.

These things are fascinating to think about, and many people dedicate much of their lives to studying eschatology and all the various theories of the end times. Google it and you’ll find all sorts of charts, graphs, opinions, and theories about what’s to come.

I found it interesting that Jesus concludes His apocalyptic overview with a parable of a servant in charge of feeding his master’s servants while the master is away. When the master returns the only question was whether or not the servant was found doing what he was supposed to do. Jesus’ message is clear: Don’t worry about these ordained events that I cannot control. Worry about being faithful to do each day those things I am called to do. Actively love God. Actively love others. The rest will take care of itself.

On election night our daughter asked me to text her something wise. I don’t know how wise my message was, but I gave her my perspective at that moment. Donald Trump may be President, but the next morning I was going to get up, go to work, and do the things I do everyday. Just like I did when Obama was President, and Bush 43, and Clinton, and Bush 41. Life goes on. My job is to focus my time and attention on my spheres of influence and doing the things I’m called to do to the best of my ability.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do 😉

Purposes and Implosions of Evil

“I will stir up Egyptian against Egyptian—
    brother will fight against brother,
    neighbor against neighbor,
    city against city,
    kingdom against kingdom.”
Isaiah 19:2 (NIV)

‘Yes, they quarreled, seemingly,’ said Sam. ‘There must have been a couple of hundred of the dirty creatures in this place. A bit of a tall order for Sam Gamgee, as you might say. But they’ve done all the killing of themselves.’
The Lord of the Rings, Book 6, Chapter 1

Evil falls prey to its own nature. That’s one of the themes that Tolkien threaded through his epic stories. Left to its own devices, evil implodes from its self-seeking appetites:

  • Several characters relented from killing Gollum and Gandalf even believed that Gollum had a part to play in the fate of the ring. Gollum’s insatiable lust for the One Ring was what ultimately saved Frodo and everyone else, while destroying both the Ring and himself.
  • In the Tower of Cirith Ungol Sam is able to find Frodo and rescue him because all of the orcs fought and destroyed each other. (see quoted passage above)
  • The orcs who took Merry and Pippin quarrel over their captives and their quarrel is leveraged by the hobbits to plot their escape.
  • Gandalf refuses to kill either Saruman or Wormtongue. In the end, Wormtongue finishes Saruman off himself.

I thought about this theme in Tolkien’s stories, and its caused me to think about my responses and reactions to evil that I encounter around me and in others. As a young man I was far more given to the notion of swift and final justice of any perpetrator of evil. The further I get in my journey the more I’ve come to appreciate that life is not always as simply black and white.

Even God, through the word of the prophets, makes it clear that sometimes the agents of evil unwittingly serve the greater design of the Great Story. In Isaiah’s prophetic messages to the nations in the past few chapters there has been a recurring theme of Israel’s enemies accomplishing God’s larger purposes. And, sometimes  implodes and devours itself.

Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement,” Gandalf says to Frodo regarding Gollum’s deserving justice. “For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

This morning I’m thinking about grand themes of good and evil, of mercy and justice. I would love for things to always be simple in the story telling and to avoid the messiness of the mystery. I would especially appreciate it as I apply these themes to my own life and relationships. Yet, my life journey has taught me that things are rarely that simple. The truth is that I would have quickly dispatched Gollum and considered it a just end, but then how would the larger epic have ended?

I’m left, as I am so often am, praying for wisdom and discernment. I’m trying harder than ever to suppress my natural eagerness to deal out judgement. I’m trying harder than ever to increase love in tangible ways.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

 

The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

Foreshadowing

job

You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.
Job 14:15-17 (NIV)

The book of Job is an epic poem (bookended with a prose prologue and epilogue). It was likely an ancient story and scholars suggest that the protagonist of the story lived sometime between 1000 and 2000 B.C. The story of Job and his three friends was likely shared through oral tradition for many generations before a Hebrew poet and scribe penned it in the form and structure we read today. The date is unknown, but historians place the books writing anywhere between the reign of Solomon and when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and forced the Hebrews into exile which would put it roughly 600-1000 years before Christ.

Realizing that we’re reading a poem penned so many centuries before Jesus was born, what struck me in today’s chapter was the foreshadowing of Jesus that came out in Job’s words:

You will call and I will answer you;

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” – Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus

You will long for the creature your hands have made.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…. John 3:16

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” – Jesus

Surely then you will count my steps,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Jesus

but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” – Jesus

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

God is telling a story, and it is woven through His Message. Job is a part of that story. His ancient words not only speak to me of my very present human condition, but also foreshadow a chapter of God’s story which would not unfold for many millennia.

This morning, I’m thankful for the rich layers of story and of meaning told through Job, and through the books of law, and history, and wisdom. I’m thankful for the ways I daily relate to them these thousands of years later, and the ways they richly reveal God’s story as it unfolds across time.