Tag Archives: Iowa

When Trouble Unexpectedly Blows In

In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord.
2 Chronicles 28:22 (NIV)

Just a few weeks ago a tornado descended on the small community where Wendy and I live. That day there were some 27 tornadoes that ripped through Iowa. The tornado here in Pella hit a local manufacturing company, wreaking havoc on multiple plants and turning cars in the parking lot into a pile scrap metal. Since it happened in the middle of the workday, it seems to me a miracle that no one was killed. Only a handful of people were injured, and none seriously.

In the weeks that have followed, it’s been fascinating to watch the community mobilize. The business that took the brunt of the damage is already in the process of rebuilding. Churches and charities are working with those in need. In a time of unexpected trouble, I can see the strength and faith of our community and its people. We’ll be alright.

Along my journey I’ve observed that times of trouble and unexpected tragedy are windows into Spirit. When trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descend like a tornado and blow through our lives, our response reveals what kind of spiritual foundation lies beneath the surface of our lives. It makes known how deep our spiritual roots descend into Life’s soil.

In today’s chapter, the story of King Ahaz reads like a spiritual tragedy. Not only does Ahaz not follow God, but he seems willing to follow any god, any time, any where. He goes from god-to-god sacrificing and paying tribute. When trouble hits Ahaz reaches out to Assyria for help, only to be double-crossed. Ahaz dishonors some of the articles of Solomon’s temple to try to buy his way out of trouble. It doesn’t work. When defeated by Damascus, Ahaz worships their gods in hopes that it will help. It doesn’t.

Ahaz is so willing to believe anything that his troubles reveal that he believes nothing. He has no spiritual roots. He has no foundation. His life was one of constantly grasping for anything only to be left with nothing. He was such a tragic failure, that the people of Judah refuse to entomb Ahaz’s dead body with the other kings.

I’m reminded this morning of how James put it: “the one who doubts is like the wave of the sea, blown about and tossed by the wind.” I’m also reminded of how the Psalmist contrasted the righteous and the wicked in the lyric of Psalm 1. The righteous are described as strong trees with deep roots that continually produce good fruit and don’t wither in trouble. The wicked, however, are like dust blown helplessly in the wind.

On this life journey, I believe almost every one of us will experience trouble and tragedy unexpectedly descending into our lives like a tornado. In that moment, I find out what kind of spiritual roots I’ve developed. If my roots go deep then I will weather the storm, get back to work, and come through the experience even stronger. If I have no spiritual roots then I think I’m going to be more like Ahaz, blown about, grasping for something, anything to hold onto.

(Thanks to everyone who reached out to make sure Wendy and I were alright. We live on the opposite side of town from where the tornado struck and were not in harms way.)

The Prophet and The Politician

He is in your hands,” King Zedekiah answered. “The king can do nothing to oppose you.
Jeremiah 38:5 (NIV)

Not long ago I ran into an old school friend from my middle school and high school years. In casual conversation about where our respective journeys have taken us, she asked if I was ever going to run for political office as had been my plan and passion back in the day. I was taken aback that she remembered, and I laughed to myself as I realized how long ago I tossed that childhood dream by the wayside.

Along my journey I’ve known some individuals in politics. Being an Iowan, I have occasionally involved myself in the election process and rubbed shoulders with a few of the small army of candidates who come campaigning for President every four years. I believe that there are really good people in politics who do their best to do good for our country. Yet, here’s what I have observed:

Politics is a game. Power is the prize. A politician says what people want to hear just to get elected. They then say and vote as the power brokers of their party demand in order to get ahead. Both parties pull identical political stunts (depending on their power position in the moment) then point the finger at the opposing party and scream accusations as if they’ve not done the same thing a few years before.

While I’m sure it’s somewhat different at a local level, I learned long ago that I’m not wired to play that game. It would slowly drain all Life from my spirit.

To get a feel for what’s happening in today’s chapter of Jeremiah’s story, you’ve got to read the political situation that’s present between the lines. First of all, the ancient practice of siege warfare was a slow, brutal process. The Babylonian army had surrounded Jerusalem and cut off all supply lines into the city. As the supply of food and fresh water diminish, fear and anxiety grow to unprecedented levels among the population. Power structures break down and those in power desperately try to stave off anarchy.

King Zed finds himself between a rock and a hard place. His political rivals, sick of listening to Jeremiah’s incessant prophesies of defeat, ask the King for Jeremiah’s head. The King grants it (because that’s what you do when you’re a politician trying to hold onto power). Jeremiah is thrown down the bottom of a muddy well to die. The King’s eunuch then asks the King (in private) if he might rescue Jeremiah. The King tells him to do so in secret (because when you’re a politician you secretly work back channels to accomplish what you want).

Jeremiah is summoned by King Zed who asks the prophet to give him a Word from the Lord. “Give yourself up to the King of Babylon and you’ll live,” Jeremiah tells him. Zedekiah, however, is afraid that those citizens who have already surrendered themselves to the Babylonians will turn against him if he gives himself up (and a politician is always worried about maintaining his/her power, popularity, and position). Jeremiah assures the King this will not happen.

Upon conclusion of their private conversation, King Zed warns Jeremiah that he will be asked what they talked about. Being a politician, Zed tells Jeremiah how to “spin” his answer so as to avoid political trouble for both of them (because a politician is always looking for a good win-win).

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about the contrast between Jeremiah the prophet and Zedekiah the politician. The prophet suffers for speaking the truth and being true to the Message, but beneath the suffering the prophet seems to exemplify a certain spiritual peace that comes from being true, steadfast, and faithful. The politician, on the other hand, enjoys the position and creature comforts afforded by his power, but beneath the surface lie fear, anxiety, worry, and the mental chaos from constantly navigating political minefields in the endless desperation to survive.

I am thankful this morning for the good people I know doing their best to serve in the political arena (on both sides of the aisle). I’m also thankful that God led my journey down a different path than the one I’d desired when I was a wee lad. I’m wired to be more prophet than politician, I think.

Though, I confess that I’d prefer not to get thrown into a well.

Tulip Time 2018

This year’s annual Tulip Time festival was perhaps the nicest I can remember. The tulips were more gorgeous than any year I recall with almost all of the tulip beds peaking at just the right time and a few that were still starting to bloom. They were absolutely gorgeous!

 

For the fourth straight year Wendy and I got in costume to portray our little town’s founding couple, Dominie (that’s Dutch for “Pastor”) H.P. and Mareah Scholte. We spent each morning standing in front of the Scholte House museum welcoming visitors and then strolled the streets having our picture taken by countless visitors. We rode in the parades each afternoon. An intense Iowa thunderstorm, complete with Tornado warning, washed out the Thursday evening parade and festivities. Otherwise, the weather for the weekend was perfect.

We typically got out of costume once the afternoon parade was over. It was our chance to enjoy some grub from our favorite food stands, have a pint at the pub, and visit with friends.

Along with Tulip Time activities, we also hosted a bunch of family who came to town. Wendy’s mom and Aunt Linda stayed with us Thursday night. Uncle Brad and Aunt Barb stayed with us Friday and Saturday nights. Suzanna also came down Saturday and ended ups spending the night. My parents and sister Jody came down for the fun on Saturday and then returned home (with an armful of goodies from the Jaarsma bakery). By late Saturday afternoon Wendy I were pretty worn out. We bowed out of the final parade on Saturday night. Our friends Kevin and Linda, along with Suzanna, joined us on the patio to celebrate another wonderful Tulip Time.

Sometimes It Sucks to Be Right

The ground is cracked
    because there is no rain in the land;
the farmers are dismayed
    and cover their heads.
Jeremiah 14:4 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa one is learns just how dependent our lives are on weather. I didn’t grow up on a farm and didn’t have a single family member who did. I knew nothing about agriculture. Still, when a boy grows up in a state that produces 15 billion bushels of corn a year and is the nation’s leading producer of soybeans, eggs, and hogs you can’t help but realize how dependent life is on seasons, earth, sun, and rain. When weather doesn’t cooperate for an extended period of time it’s a serious deal.

I remember as a kid one summer the midwest, and Iowa in particular, was experiencing a serious drought. Weather dominated the local news each night and the drought become a daily topic for the daily national newscasts as well. One evening during the usual network sitcom I watched as our local news station actually ran a scrolling bulletin along the bottom of the screen reporting that rain had unexpectedly developed over a small town where the local church was holding an evening prayer vigil. When was the last time your local news broke into programming to report an answered prayer? Yeah, it gets serious when rain doesn’t fall around here.

In the prophet Jeremiah’s day, drought was even more serious. In 21st century Iowa a drought means financial crisis. In Jeremiah’s day drought meant everyone could literally die.

That’s the backdrop on today’s chapter. Keep in mind that the book of Jeremiah is actually an anthology of the ancient prophet’s poetry and messages. Today’s chapter and tomorrow’s chapter are a poetic conversation with Jeremiah pleading with God for mercy amidst a drought and God responding (but not in a “Oh good! Let’s scroll God’s answer along the bottom of Magnum P.I.!” kind of way).

The answer Jeremiah gets from God is not good news and Jeremiah notices that he seems to be the only prophet who isn’t broadcasting optimistic prognostications of showers of blessing and a flood of deliverance. Jeremiah gets to be the lone voice proclaiming, “Tighten your belt, pack your bags, and get ready to move. This drought isn’t ending anytime soon,” and then he has the pleasure of adding, “after the drought the forecast is for famine and war.

Ugh. No wonder Jeremiah takes note that it seems much easier to say the things people want to hear. It sucks to be the lone harbinger of bad news. It sucks even worse to be right.

I’ve noticed along life’s journey that when the whole world is freaking out and broadcasting fear and anxiety 24/7 it is rarely as bad as the groupthink and crowd-speak makes it. The opposite is also true. When the groupthink and crowd-speak is predicting perpetually perfect conditions and a never-ending bull market of bliss, you can be pretty sure that the bubble’s going to burst at some point. I’ve learned to be wary of the din of the crowd. I try to keep my ears open for a lonely voice with a different message, usually found somewhere in the wilderness (or flyover country where I live).

Btw, it’s been rainy the past couple of weeks here in Iowa. I’d say things are looking good for planting season and the crops this year. But please don’t take my word for it. When it comes to farming I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

Pella Tulip Time 2017

This past weekend was the annual Tulip Time festival in our little hometown of Pella, Iowa. On the first weekend of May we celebrate our Dutch heritage with three days of Tulips, Dutch pastries, Dutch costumes, parades and lots of tradition. I can’t remember three more perfect days for Tulip Time. We had sun and temps in the 60s and 70s. This translated into record setting crowds and a wonderful time.

During Tulip Time most residents of Pella dress in traditional Dutch costumes and volunteer in a myriad of ways. For the past three years Wendy and I have dressed as our town’s founding couple, Dominie (that’s Dutch for “Pastor”) Hendrik P. Scholte and his wife Maria, who led hundreds of followers from the Netherlands to the Iowa Prairie in 1847.

As always, Wendy and I had a ball hanging out at the Scholte House Museum welcoming visitors to “our” home. And, we enjoyed riding in the parades, greeting friends who came home for the fun, and meeting people from all over the world who came to join in the festivities. While we celebrate our Dutch heritage, Tulip Time is a slice of Americana that feels like it popped right off a Norman Rockwell cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

 

Rest

Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord.
Leviticus 25:2 (NRSV)

When you grow up in Iowa, you gain an appreciation for the earth. There are close to 90,000 farm operations in our state and 30.5 million acres of Iowa land is dedicated to agriculture. But the importance of the land goes much deeper than the sheer market value of its produce. The land is a part of people’s heritage. It gets into their souls and becomes a part of who they are.

I find it fascinating that in the ancient Hebrew law God’s principle of rest was extended beyond human beings to the land. Rest is not just something human’s need. It’s something woven into the fabric of creation. Living things need rest. Humans need rest. Animals need rest. Plants need rest. The land needs rest.

I am reminded this morning that when God created Adam and Eve, the task given to them was agriculture. They were caretakers of the Garden. When cast out of the Garden, it was clear from God’s words to Adam that agriculture would continue to be at the core of humanity’s existence. There is a natural connection between humanity and creation that God wove into our DNA. I have never been a farmer and my family has never farmed, but when you live in Iowa you get the connection. The land requires care taking. A part of taking care of living things is making sure there is sufficient rest.

Work hard today. Then rest well.

 

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We Need More Festivals

Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed festivals of the Lord.
Leviticus 23:44 (NRSV)

For going on nearly a century, our small Iowa town has held a Tulip Festival every May. Everything stops for three days as residents pour their time and energy into the tens of thousands of visitors who descend on our community. Make no mistake, the festival is all about promotion and commerce. It’s the major fundraiser of the year for most of our community organizations. Nevertheless, I think everyone in our town would agree that the festival is much more than that. It celebrates our history, our heritage, and it promotes a strong sense of community and a spirit of service within it.

Festival is just a fun word. From the Latin word for “feast,” the root word is defined as “cheerful and jovially celebratory.” Who doesn’t want that? That’s one of the reasons Wendy and I wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve. What a great evening to celebrate our lives and love through time.

I find it interesting that God would program into His people’s calendar a series of “festivals.” At the top of the list is the weekly day of Sabbath or rest. The weekly day of rest was supposed to be a festival, but over time the religious people turned it into its own version of burdensome religious toil. Jesus got more grief from religious leaders about breaking Sabbath rules than anything else He said or did. The uptight religious people had perverted a festival of rest into a weekly religious burden. That was never its intention and Jesus knew it.

I can’t say that the institutional church and Jesus’ followers have done much better with our weekly day of worship which was moved from the Jewish sabbath on Saturday to the day of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. Each Sunday is supposed to be a festival of resurrection, but I wouldn’t describe the weekly mood in many churches as “festive.”

I knew a family who decided to try and instill this understanding of Sunday being a festival of Jesus’ resurrection in their young children. They began early in the week looking in anticipation of Sunday as a special day of celebration. Every Saturday night (the eve of Resurrection Day) they had a special family meal that the children helped plan during the week. Guests were invited to join them. They decorated with bright colors and had special desserts. There was a large brass chandelier fixture in their dining room with long swooping arms. At the end of the weekly Resurrection Eve dinner all of the meal participants would stand with a party popper, point it at the chandelier and pull their popper so that the colorful streamers would hit the chandelier and get caught on the arms. There the streamers would stay so that each week day the children would see the colorful remnant of their weekly feast and look forward to the next.

The family celebrated getting to worship on Sunday and celebrate the Resurrection. They planned special moments together on Sunday as well. Believe me. The day I was a guest in their home, the children couldn’t wait for their weekly Saturday night and Sunday festival.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that we don’t do more to make personal festivals a way to mark special days, seasons, heritage, and history that is meaningful to us and our loved ones. Festivals are fun as well as meaningful. Who doesn’t love a nice feast in which to be cheerful and jovially celebratory? Let’s plan a little festival and invite our loved ones.

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Featured image by metku via Flickr