Tag Archives: Group

Series of Unfortunate Events

Series of Unfortunate Events (CaD Jud 21) Wayfarer

The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”
Judges 21:1 (NIV)

There was a period of time in our daughter’s childhood when her favorite series of youth fiction was Lemony Snicket which always carried the tag line: A series of unfortunate events.

That tagline “a series of unfortunate events” popped into my mind as I sat in the quiet this morning pondering not only the tumultuous events that are unpacked by the author of Judges in his three-chapter epilogue but also the tumultuous events that we’ve been living through in the past two years. Looking at the headlines and the horizon, I would say that we’re not out of the woods

Today’s chapter is the final chapter of the book of Judges and the third and final chapter in a saga that began with a single Levite traveler traveling home with his wife and servant. One rather isolated local incident blows up into a national tragedy. Emotions boil over and reason gives way. The people become a mob and violence ensues. Tribal instincts perpetuate the violence. The human desire for justice turns into a cycle of vengeance.

As the teacher of Ecclesiastes famously observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

For the ancient Hebrews, the series of unfortunate events are intertwined with a hodge-podge of cultural decisions that only fueled the perpetuation of the unfortunate events. The Hebrew tribes had mingled their worship of Yahweh as prescribed in the Law of Moses with the religious customs of local gods and cultural mores of the region. High on the bloodlust of vengeance, eleven tribes swear an oath not to give any of their daughters into marriage with the tribe of Benjamin.

As often happens with mob violence, it is in the tragic aftermath that “cooler heads prevail” and corporate regret rises. The eleven tribes, however, have placed themselves square in the middle of a cultural dilemma. They can’t give their daughters in marriage to the men of Benjamin without breaking their oath which was an unforgivable act in the culture of that day. Yet, if they don’t find a way for the leftover men of Benjamin to find wives and procreate, the tribe will be wiped out. So, they devise a scheme to help the remnant of men from Benjamin to kidnap Canaanite virgins who were taking part in an annual religious festival. This exemplifies an ancient Near East tradition that holds sway in international relationships to this day:

Me against my brother.
My brother and I against our neighbor.
My neighbor and I against a stranger.

It is quite common for modern readers to balk at the violence and vengeance in this ancient story, but that’s exactly what the author of the book of Judges wanted his readers to feel. In his context, he wanted his contemporary readers to say: “This is awful. Isn’t it so much better to have a king who will provide justice and stability?”

This brings me back to our modern-day series of unfortunate events and a parallel desire for justice and stability. As a follower of Jesus, I am led to a very important and salient contradiction.

Human instinct is for strong human leadership to ensure justice, stability, and safety with top-down authoritarian power.

Jesus taught His followers to change the world with a grass-roots movement in which individual believers transform other individuals with interpersonal Love that changes lives from the bottom up.

Every example from history in which these two paradigms have been confused has ended in its own form of tragic failure.

And so, I enter another day, and another work week, resolved to stick to the plan Jesus gave His followers.

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

Heart and Words

Heart and Words (CaD Matt 12) Wayfarer

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of…”
“For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:34b, 37 (NIV)

Every morning, Wendy and I sit at the kitchen island with our coffee and our blueberry-spinach smoothies. We share a quick devotional thought and a prayer for the day ahead. We then catch up on what is happening in the world. On occasion, I’ll finish reading an article and then glance at the comments that have been made by other readers below it. I don’t know why I even do this. I always regret doing so because the comments have such little worthwhile content and so much worthless vitriol. It doesn’t matter which side of the political aisle the article comes from.

I find the same to be true even among groups of supposedly like-minded individuals. Years ago I joined fan groups of my favorite teams on social media. I rarely visit them anymore. Even among people who cheer for the same team, I find the conflict and negative discourse over really trivial matters is often off-the-charts. I don’t find it worthwhile to spend my time and energy falling down that rabbit hole.

In today’s chapter, Jesus states a very simple spiritual truth that packs a punch:

Whatever is inside my heart and soul will come out of my mouth (and onto my social media posts) as words.

In the quiet this morning, I didn’t have to search for, or think hard about, what God had for me and my day from today’s chapter. I found myself thinking long and hard about Jesus’ observation: the words I speak, type, write, and use are a leading indicator of my soul’s health and content. I immediately thought of careless words I regret speaking to a friend last week. I then had two other passages that Holy Spirit brought to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)

My soul operates on the basic computer principle I learned when I was in high school: garbage in, garbage out.

I head into my day with two questions I’m pondering:

What am I feeding my heart and mind?

What do my words, tweets, posts, and comments reveal about the health and condition of my soul?

“Ins” and “outs”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38 (NIV)

Over the past five years, I’ve quietly watched as divergent lines of political, social, and religious thought have become more and more entrenched behind walls of prejudice and across what appears to be a “no man’s land” dictated by either and/or both sides of the great divide. It grieves me to observe, and to experience, the lack of grace, tolerance, love, and simple human kindness for other human beings.

Like every other human being, my life journey has been dotted with observing and experiencing the “ins” and “outs” of social groups. Favorites emerge in family systems. Sides are chosen on the playground. The new kid on the block must navigate how to earn acceptance from the neighborhood gang who’ve known each other their whole lives. Social groups with unspoken rules of “in” and “out” emerge out of the shared identities of being jocks, nerds, band geeks, and stoners. Sororities and Fraternities create shared loyalty through their pledging, hazing, and strict hierarchies. Corporations have well insulated “C-Suites” where executives are sequestered in corner offices with private bathrooms. Churches manage who’s in and out with membership cards, doctrinal litmus tests, and unspoken religious rules about dress, speech, morality, and acceptable political stances.

In today’s chapter, there’s an interesting exchange that, in my experience, doesn’t get much air time. In my forty years of following Jesus and regularly attending the gatherings of various groups of fellow followers, I have never heard one sermon, lecture, or lesson on this exchange.

It comes from the mouth of John who bears the moniker, “the one whom Jesus loved,” and one of the three who comprised what’s known as “Jesus’ inner-circle.” It was that “inner circle” (James, John, and Peter) whom Jesus took to witness His transfiguration in today’s chapter. I have to wonder how that went over with the other nine. I think I can guess.

Jesus and His “twelve” are together in someone’s home, away from the crowds. Jesus is holding a little child in His arms, telling his disciples that in the economy of God’s Kingdom the “greatest” are those who are humble and willing to welcome and serve “the least” of society with open and embracing arms.

John then looks at Jesus (who is still holding the child as a living word picture of this lesson about humility, love, openness, and inclusion), and says, “Teacher, we saw some guy we didn’t know today performing an exorcism in your name and we told him to stop, because he’s not one of us!”

He doesn’t belong “in” our group.

You didn’t choose him, like you chose us.

He hasn’t left everything and followed you like we have.

We don’t know where he is from or what he truly believes.

Be proud of us, Jesus, we’re keeping “out” those who don’t belong “in” your entourage!

Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, rebukes John for what he’s said and done. John can’t see the disconnect. Jesus then tears down the wall of John’s “in” group distinctions: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating all of the walls of distinction that have been erected by various social groups on every side of every issue. And this is where my heart lands as I consider Jesus’ words in today’s chapter, and picture Him holding a little child in His arms:

First:

When I go downstairs this morning to have coffee with Wendy and peruse the news of the day…
I am only going to see what their cameras want me to see.
I am only going to hear what their editors want me to hear.
I am only going to read, watch, and listen to the sources I choose
who, let’s face it, I choose because it makes me comfortable in.my.own.groups.

Second:

What I will see, hear, and read is an infinitesimal and skewed vision of the daily lives, experiences, conversations, and interactions that I and billions of other human beings will have on this planet on this day.

Third:

I can’t control what others may think of me or what they perceive me to be. People may very well choose to hate me and be against me in any way one chooses. Nevertheless, no one is going to get me to hate them any more than they could get Jesus to hate them.

As a follower of Jesus, that’s my calling, my mission, and my heart’s desire.

Forgive? Yes. Hate? No.

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