Tag Archives: Genetics

Family is Family

 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
Numbers 21:4 (NIV)

My maternal grandfather, Claude Hendrickson had a particularly difficult childhood. Grandpa Spec’s father committed suicide after learning he had tuberculosis. It was assumed that Perry Hendrickson wanted to spare his family the medical costs and difficulties associated with a long, terminal illness. My grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was farmed out to his maternal grandparents to be raised. His mother retained custody of the younger siblings.

“Spec,” as he was known this whole life, experienced a strict upbringing with his grandparents. There was, however, discipline and faith. He managed well, got married, worked hard, and made a decent life for his family. Meanwhile, his siblings suffered their own difficulties as their mother, Olive Hendrickson, went through a string of failed marriages. Spec’s brother Ralph, an alcoholic, came looking for a job from his older brother. Spec agreed to hire his brother, but explained that he would fire him the first time he found his brother drinking on the job. When that eventually happened, Ralph was fired and promptly returned family in Illinois where he spread malicious lies about Spec among the family there. Spec felt ostracized by much of his family from that point on.

Spec and Ralph remained estranged, yet when Ralph died Spec drove to Illinois to pay his respects and to face a family who thought the worst of him because of Ralph’s malicious stories. Imagine my grandfather’s horror when the funeral director handed him the bill for his brother’s funeral. As “next of kin” the family expected him to pay the bill for his estranged brother who had caused him so much trouble. My grandfather paid the bill, returned home to Iowa, and let it go.

Family is family,” I can hear my grandfather say from his rocker, chewing on a cigar.

This story came to mind as I read today’s chapter. There is a subtle, recurring theme through the story of the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews. It appears again today when the nomad nation takes a circuitous route to avoid the land of Edom. Skirting Edom to the east meant living in an extremely desolate area east of the Dead Sea.

Back in Deuteronomy God had told Moses to leave Edom alone because the land of Edom had been settled by Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (aka Israel). The story of the twins is back in Genesis 25. Esau had been Jacob’s older twin, but Jacob had deceived Esau into giving him his birthright. The result was “bad blood” between the brothers and their descendants.

It has been some 600 years since the days of Jacob and Esau, and now the nation of Israelites are living in a desolate desert wilderness clawing out their survival because God had ordered, through Moses, that they leave Esau’s land alone. The people weren’t happy.

“Family is family.” There has always been an unwritten human principle about being faithful to family, to provide for family, to be true to family. In my life journey I believe I’ve seen the power of this sentiment slowly fade in our culture as families spread out over larger and larger geographical areas. Yet, I’m not sure it will ever fade completely. There’s something that’s built in our DNA. It’s why millions of people are doing DNA tests and searching out their roots to understand who their family is and “where I come from.” There is a part of us and our life journey that we realize is only understood in the context of the family from which we spring.

This morning I’m thinking about our human family and the things that connect us. I continue to marvel that modern genetics has definitively shown that all of us descend from what scientists refer to as “Genetic Eve.” We are all part of the same human family. Like the Hebrews, over time we feel less and less connection. Despite the fact that God reminded the Hebrews that the Edomites were “family” they didn’t think of the Edomites in those terms. They saw their distant cousins as enemies who refused to allow them to pass through the land. The Edomites didn’t see the Hebrews as distant cousins but as a threat to their very existence. Along the way our self-centered fears and desires turns human family members into mortal enemies.

Then there are those like Grandpa Spec. Despite having every reason to save his money and walk away angry from his brother’s funeral, he simply paid the funeral bill and let it go.

Family is family.

Indeed.

Related Bozos

Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr
Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 1 Chronicles 1:-3 (NIV) I thought we would follow the history of David from the book of 2 Samuel to the book of 1 Chronicles. If you’re reading along, you’ll notice a big difference between this book and the one we just finished. The books of Samuel read much like a biography in which the author is trying to tell the story of a person (in this case, David) from beginning to end. Chronicles is more of an official government record which chronicles the history of the kingdom and the monarchy. The royal scribe, traditionally believed to have been Ezra who lived and wrote his Chronicle about 500 years after King David’s life, begins his record of the kingdom with the beginning of human history and connects the dots through the ages. We’re in for what you might consider a dry couple of chapters of genealogy, but there are some important spiritual nuggets buried in the endless lists of names:

  1. We all come from the same place. The chronicler’s list begins at the beginning with Adam, and even modern science has proven that, genetically, we all come from the same woman. We can speculate and argue endlessly about exactly how things happened, but after reading through God’s Message a number of times I’ve come to the conclusion that God, as a storyteller, was not concerned about telling us exactly how thing happened (because, ultimately, that’s not the point) but why things happened (because, ultimately, that’s the whole point).
  2. Even our enemies are family. As we read through the list in today’s chapter we stumble over a few references to Israel’s traditional enemies such as the Philistines, Moabites, and Edomites. And yet, even the kings official record revealed from the beginning that they were all distant relatives. In fact, we all are. This may not make a huge difference with regard to world politics, but I think it should make a huge difference in my personal view of others.

I find it fascinating that Jesus did not concern himself in the least with the political issues of his day. Whenever the topic of earthly kingdoms and politics arose, Jesus always changed the subject to the Kingdom of God. At the same time, Jesus radically chose to talk to and relate with those whom his contemporary culture had raised him to believe were unworthy of his time and consideration: women, tax-collectors, prostitutes, Romans, Samaritans, etc., and etc. I believe Jesus looked at these people and saw, not the human differences between them, but the similarities. He didn’t see “different” people physically, politically, culturally, ideologically, or morally. He saw people who were fundamentally the same in human and spiritual terms. As I like to say, we’re all just bozos on the bus trying to find our way home. Jesus understood that, and didn’t discriminate what kind of bozo one person was over another.Today, I’m thinking about the ways I continue to divide and categorize people in my mind and heart. I’m repenting of my attitude, and heading into the day choosing to see each person as just another bozo like me (who is related to me as a matter of fact) and who is worthy of my love and consideration. Today, once again, I’m trying to be more like Jesus.

(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son

Chip off the ol' block.
Chip off the ol’ block.

The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”  2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)

A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.

“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. My brother and I have even joked about it. “I may have the Vander Well nose,” he said to me this past year, “but at least I didn’t get the receding hairline and the bad hearing.” I think he feels he got the better end of the deal.

It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not at the similarities, but at the contrast between David and his rebellious, prodigal son Absalom:

  • As a young man David was the anointed king, but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
  • David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom the respect and gentleness his son, a prince. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
  • David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated out of anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.

I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.

As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they’ve been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.

This morning I am thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, lived on opposite sides of that line.

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We are Family

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 36

This is the account of the descendants of Esau (also known as Edom). Genesis 36:1 (NLT)

As I read today’s chapter I couldn’t keep my mind from wandering to “the rest of the story.” All of these descendants of Esau (also known as Edom) would become the Edomites who would live in constant conflict with the descendants of Israel. The prophet Obadiah’s message was against the Edomites. The conflict was between tribes who shared a common ancestor.

That is also true of the conflicts we read about on the internet and see on the television today. The nation of Israel trace their lineage back through Isaac to Abraham. The arab nations trace their lineage back through Ishmael to Abraham. They are all sons of Abraham.

We can cast the net even wider. DNA projects being carried on by National Geographic and other groups are tracing the common genetic strands of everyday people all over the world in order to learn more about how tribes and nations and peoples spread across the earth. What modern genetics has determined is [surprise!] we all, every person on this Earth can trace their genes back to the same woman.

I can also pull the net in close to find this theme played out around me each day. I live in a small Iowa town founded by a small handful of Dutch immigrant families. “Dutch Bingo” is what we call the game that locals play when they start conversationally tracing family trees in order to find a connection. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard or witnessed casual friends or neighbors playing Dutch Bingo only to find that they are third or fourth cousins and never knew it, I could buy you a Starbucks Grande Latte in Oslo.

I don’t know what to make of it all. I scratch my head and mull it all over as I sip my morning coffee and watch the snow falling outside. The one thing that it does make me appreciate is that we are all connected. I can’t do much about world politics or global conflict, but I can choose each day how I treat my fellow human being family member. I can be a little more deferential to that jerk uptown who drives me nuts. I can choose to respond to a personal attack with grace. I can take that money I’d spend on your Oslo Grande Latte and feed a distant cousin on the other side of the world, help dig a well for a community of far off relatives who daily live without clean water, or help free someone with whom I’m genetically connected from human trafficking.

 

Rebuilding Babel

The Netherlands (Flanders)
The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Genesis 11

“Look!” he said. “The people are united, and they all speak the same language. After this, nothing they set out to do will be impossible for them! Genesis 11:6 (NLT)

Over the past ten years I have come to be more and more intrigued by the story of the Tower of Babel presented in today’s chapter. I believe that the story is more relevant today than ever and I believe it’s important for us to connect the dots. For those who’ve never read the story (and haven’t read all of today’s chapter), the Cliff Notes version goes like this: All of the people spoke one language. They began to advance quickly as they learned how to make bricks and construct cities. Using their advancing technology they made a tower which would “reach to the sky” and “make them famous.” God, not happy with how quickly human kind was advancing and concerned about human pride, responded with the verse I’ve quoted above. God scattered the people across the globe and confused their languages.

I believe the story of human history is the story of our slow return to Babel. From being scattered and our languages confused, we have slowly reached out, explored, conquered, mapped, and increased our knowledge, technology and communication. In the past few decades we have once again become people of one language: the language of the internet. As we become one people and one language technology is advancing at unheard of levels. How ironic that last week I attended a professional conference last week in which the technology of Speech Analytics (e.g. computers translate and analyze mass quantities of recorded customer interactions and place a dizzying amount of information at your fingertips) was presented to those in attendance as the emerging solution that will revolutionize the way we all do business. The name of the particular product that was presented: Contact Babel complete with a logo of a little stair-step tower

I submit that our generation has begun to rebuild the Tower of Babel using Cat-5 cable, fiber optics, micro processors, satellite streams and DNA strands. We hear whispers in the press and on the web of doing what previously would be thought impossible. Not only can we cure disease with genetics but we can also order genetically designed children ala carte. The internet is tearing down international boundaries and making it impossible for governments to control information (it’s no wonder the U.N. wants to bring the internet under its control). We are hearing more and more about becoming a one world economy without a physical currency. And, all along the way I watch and listen as God becomes more and more irrelevant, passé, and obsolete to a popular culture hell-bent to embrace its own self-deification.

Then I sit at my desk in the wee hours of the morning and ask myself where this is all leading. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to the book of Revelation at some point. In the meantime, hold on tight. I think we’re in for a bumpy ride.

Chapter-a-Day Ezra 2

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. From a syna...
Image via Wikipedia

“These are those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer. They weren’t able to prove their ancestry, whether they were true Israelites or not….” Ezra 2:59-60 (MSG)

Coming from a “good family” means a lot in many circles. As a child, I remember kids on the playground comparing notes about famous people in their family tree. My Great Aunt worked tirelessly to prove that she belonged in the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.). Even in the little Dutch-American community where I live I know that I’ve experienced a certain amount of acceptance moving in that other newcomers do not simply because I have a Dutch surname.

When reading the Old Testament, it’s important to remember that for Israelites in ancient times, the family of origin was huge. Your occupation and your position on the social pecking order was a all determined by family tree. To fully participate in the rites of the temple you had to prove your genetic connection.

When Jesus came and offered salvation to anyone who placed their faith in Him, Jew or non-Jew, it was a radical paradigm shift for the group of Jewish followers in His inner circle. Saul or Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul, was a Jew of high standing and persecutor of the early Christians until he was personally confronted by the risen Jesus and immediately became a faithful follower. Paul often bragged about his Jewish pedigree when debating with his fellow Israelites about Jesus, but was the most rabid proponent of loving, reaching out to, and including non-Jewish Gentiles into the Christian faith. Paul was the first to fully embrace the truth that in Jesus there is no social pecking order based on your family tree or religious pedigree. Those who follow Jesus are spiritually the same:

So where does that put us? Do we Jews get a better break than the others? Not really. Basically, all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Romans 3:9 (MSG)

I can only imagine the shame that “those who came from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer” felt at being the only ones among the 42,000 Israelites to return to Jerusalem who could not prove their pedigree. I have to believe they felt the condemning looks and subtle prejudice from the “blue blood” Israelites with whom they journied.

Today, I’m glad that my relationship with God has nothing to do with my genetic code or family tree. I’m grateful that God does not have a spiritual pecking order of “haves and have nots.” We are all, every one of us, “have nots” until Jesus, in His mercy, graciously forgives us, redeems us, and adopts us into His spiritual family as a joint heir of God’s rich spiritual inheritance.

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Chapter-a-day 2 Kings 24

Generations. 

In God's opinion he also was an evil king, no different from his father

. 2 Kings 24:9 (MSG)

It's funny to watch certain behavioral traits pass down through generations. If you grew up in my family and found yourself in the bathroom when everyone else was at the table ready to eat, you were labeled "Uncle Garrett" because some old guy a few generations before had a habit of always being on the pot at meal time. When a person in my wife's family behaves in an authoritatively stubborn way, they are said to have inherited the Vander Hart gene.

Sometimes these behavioral patterns that flow through families are silly and the source of lots of ribbing and laughter. Sometimes they are simply annoying and you roll your eyes when they surface. Other times, however, they can be spiritually unhealthy and destructive. One of the themes that sticks out like a sore thumb in our journey through the Book of Kings is the perpetuation of sin and evil across generations. Time after time I read a verse like the one above from today's chapter. "Chip off the ol' block" is not always a good thing.

Today, I'm reminded that I am responsible for my own behavior and following God may require me to take a clearly different path than the well-worn trail that was blazed by earlier generations in my family. Following in Jesus' footsteps is a journey that leads us to change in ways that force to be more like Him, and less like those on the path behind us.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and collylogic