Tag Archives: Laws

Building Silos

This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father’s tribal clan.
Numbers 36:6 (NIV)

Almost every morning Wendy and I meet in our dining room for our requisite cups of coffee and tea. We read the newspaper together and start each day catching up on current events and solving the worlds problems. Over weeks and months and years we begin to see patterns that you can count on. For example, no matter what piece of legislation is presented by Congress here in America, all parties will get out their crystal balls and predict either blissful utopia or utter apocalypse depending on which side of the aisle they butter their womb-to-the-tomb pension and benefits package. The same clichés will be used like worn-out rags for the public while behind closed doors congressional staffers will be hammering out appeals and deals.

Along life’s journey I’ve observed that there are always unintended consequences to virtually any law. Laws may benefit the majority but will typically have unintended negative effect for others. Laws always get amended, altered and changed by additional legislation or by interpretations and clarifications from the judicial branch. It’s just the way the system works.

In today’s chapter we finish our journey through the ancient book of Numbers with a rather odd, anti-climactic story. A few chapters ago the unmarried daughters of a guy named Zelophehad approached Moses and argued that their father’s inheritance should pass to them, even though they were women. Women in near east cultures of that day could not own property and, in fact, were typically considered the property of their fathers or husbands. In a law that was incredibly progressive for the time, Moses agreed with the orphaned daughters and set up a new law granting unmarried daughters of a dead father the father’s inheritance. The inheritance would then pass to their husband if/when they eventually married.

Today we have an appeal to the original law. The ruling men in the tribe begin to ask themselves “What ifs.” It would not surprise me if multiple men from various tribes were lining up in an ancient version of The Bachelorette. Marrying Zelophehad’s daughters and getting your hands on Zelophehad’s inheritance would be a lucrative deal. “Mazel tov!”

The problem was that tribal inheritance in the promised land was to be set in stone and absolute. Land was not to pass back and forth from one tribe to another. The case of Zelophehad’s daughters created a problem. Their father’s land would go to their future husband. If they married outside the clan then their tribes land would be owned by another tribe. Moses quickly amends the original law stating that Zelophehad’s daughters must marry inside their own tribal clan.

Of course, when you follow the news long enough and acquaint yourself with human history you begin to see patterns. Today’s amendment will have its own unintended effect. When human tribes isolate and insulate themselves socially it creates “us versus them” mentalities. Eventually the tribes would turn against one another in a protracted civil war.

This morning I’m thinking about tribes and clans. In the business world we often speak of “Silos” in which departments and divisions of corporations operate within themselves and largely function in exclusion to the corporation as a whole. In the world of institutional Christianity we see this same paradigm in silos we call denominations. Across the U.S. I see silos in politics and in my own community I see silos culturally among groups with different ideas and interests. Silos we build with the best of intentions to shore up the identity and cohesion of certain groups become exclusionary protectorates that eventually contribute negatively to the whole.

The further I get in my life journey the more inclined I am to stop building silos and to start tearing them down.

 

 

It Was Never About the Rules

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
Hebrews 7:18-19 (NIV)

When our daughters, Taylor and Madison, were young girls they were subjected to a fairly substantial system of rules. There were moral rules (don’t lie, don’t take what’s not yours, don’t hurt another person, et al). There were rules of health and hygiene (wash your hands before meals, no snacks before meals, cover your mouth when you cough, take a bath regularly, et al). There were rules of the family system (do what mommy or daddy says, put away your toys before bed, say your prayers, et al).

Taylor and Madison were both good kids, though they were certainly not perfect. Let me make two very important points:

First, I love Taylor and Madison dearly, but not because of the perfection with which they obeyed my rules! I love them because they are my daughters. They are God’s uniquely beautiful creations. They are inherently lovable, valuable and capable beings.

Second, the rules that I as a father subjected them to as young children had nothing to do with earning my love. Certainly there was a measure of pride and joy when they were obedient (which they did most of the time), and there was disappointment and even anger if they willfully disobeyed (trust me, I have stories). However, neither their obedience nor disobedience had any effect on my underlying love for them. The rules were about teaching them how to live healthy, productive lives, how to successfully live in relationship with others, and how to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others and the world as a whole.

In today’s chapter, a very similar distinction is being made that is critical to our understanding of both God the Father (God for us) and Jesus, God the Son (God with us). The law of Moses (that would include the Big Ten commandments and the more than 600 other rules) was the guiding force of Hebrew religion. The Hebrew priests, descendants of Aaron, along with the descendants of the tribe of Levi were in charge of these rules and the rule keeping. Rule keeping became the focus of the Jewish people as if being perfectly obedient to the rules put you in right standing with the Father. But no one became a perfect person by religiously adhering to a set of rules.

A priest is a “go-between.” Some one who represents others, intercedes for others, mediates for others, sacrifices for others before God. Jesus perfectly fits the definition of High Priest, but the author of Hebrews continues to make a very important distinction, that Jesus was not a High Priest  in the traditional, Law of Moses prescribed genetic line of Aaron. Jesus was a High Priest in the line of the cosmic, eternal, mysterious figure of Melchizedek.

Why is this important? It tells us that perfection of religious rule keeping was never the point to earning God the Father’s love any more than my love for Taylor and Madison being hinged on the perfection of their keeping the rules of my house. We are loved by God inherently because we are His uniquely beautiful, lovable, valuable, and capable creation. So loved, in fact, that Father God (God for us) made the ultimate sacrifice of sending Jesus (God with us) to free us from our silly religious rule keeping and to show us the deep, abiding, full, limitless, abounding, abundant LOVE that defines God. When conversing with God the Father, Jesus used the word “Abba” which is defined more commonly as we would use “Daddy,” “Papa,” or “Pops.” Jesus came as Priest, Mediator, and Sacrifice so we could understand that kind of loving relationship with Father God.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways that the rule-keeping paradigm keeps sucking me back into its false economy. I’m mindfully pondering how I actively continue my process of understanding “Abba” and digging into my relationship with Him. I’m reminding myself this morning of the reality that I know deeply as a father of Taylor and Madison: It was never about the rules, or the rule keeping. I am loved inherently for who I am as God’s child.

Changing Rules & Healthy Development

So then, the word of the Lord to them will become:
    Do this, do that,
    a rule for this, a rule for that;
    a little here, a little there—
so that as they go they will fall backward;
    they will be injured and snared and captured.
Isaiah 28:13 (NIV)

When our daughters were young children there were a lot of rules that had to be made, repeatedly communicated, and enforced. Children, by their very nature, lack of development and require these rules for their safety, instruction, and healthy development.

There came a time in their development, however, when the rules alone were insufficient. The girls’ growth and natural development as  human beings allowed them to think, reason, and act with greater and greater complexity and autonomy. The black and white world of a parent’s rules were trumped by their ability to think and act as individuals.

As a parent, I recognized that my role had to change. Instead of authoritarian rule maker I had to introduce reasoned instruction to my role as father. It was no longer wise or practical to use my parental authority as a battering ram of family law. While I had a license for policing, judging, and punishing my children at will, the black and white approach that worked so well on young children was inadequate for the task of dealing with teenagers and young adults.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah prophetically finds a similar situation with  the religious leaders of his day. As the shepherds of Israel they found it easier to parent their flocks by making endless black and white rules to control behavior rather than wade into the admittedly more difficult pedagogy, understanding, and demonstration of love, wisdom, mercy, and forgiveness.

The more things change the more they stay the same. Jesus faced off against the same human tendency toward legalism when he angrily told off the religious leaders of his day (cf. Matthew 23). Today, we still have religious leaders and their followers who reduce the power of divine love to the spiritually impotent authority of fundamentalist legalism.

I was by no means a perfect parent, and our daughters are quite capable of providing you with evidence of that. Nevertheless, I am enjoying watching each daughter, now in their mid-twenties, finding and developing their very own unique and life-giving relationship with God. This was not the result of rules and parental penal authority. I did my best to be an example and to show them the way, but I couldn’t legislate them into maturity and spiritual openness.

This morning I’m thinking about the many ways we live in a world where humans love to paint everyone into a black and white world. It’s quite useful for categorization and alienation, but I have found it useless at developing the things that God requires (in either grown children or adults):

to act justly
to love mercy
to walk humbly with God.

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featured image: doctorow via Flickr

Rules That Serve a Time and a Place

This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
Leviticus 11:46-47 (NRSV)

Rules and laws are often culturally important for their time and place in history, but time moves on and so does culture. In retrospect, some old laws and rules seem silly to us.

In my home state of Iowa it is against the law for a moustached man to kiss women in public. It’s also illegal in the hawkeye state for a kiss to last longer than five minutes in public. In Iowa all one-armed piano players are required, by law, to play for free. Ministers in Iowa must apply for a permit to carry liquor across state lines. Reading palms in public is strictly (well, maybe not so strictly) forbidden by law in our state. My friends in Ottumwa should know that it’s against the law for a man to wink at a woman he doesn’t know within the city limits. The food service vendor at the Iowa State Capitol way want to remember that, by a resolution passed by the Iowa congress, they must serve cornbread.

In similar fashion, the Levitical laws in today’s chapter pertaining to what the ancient Hebrews could and could not eat were relatively important in their time. The dietary rules that categorized food into “clean” and “unclean” generally protected the population from a health perspective in an age when hygiene and health were not common considerations.

For the good, Jewish followers of Jesus, the dietary rules and regulations of Leviticus were repealed shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had made clear to his followers that they were to spread his Message to all peoples, even non-Jewish Gentiles, and they were to tear down the cultural walls separating the cultures. In a vision, God made clear to Peter that God was making “clean” the foods that Leviticus had deemed “unclean.” The Levitical rules had served their purpose for their time and place. The times, they were a changin’.

This morning I’m thinking about laws and rules. From family rules to religious rules, from civic laws to social mores, we are guided throughout life by rules that govern our time and place. But times change and rules change all of the time. There are core rules like those in the ten commandments, that are applicable for all people in all times and places. Killing, lying, stealing and coveting are never a good thing no matter what time and place you find yourself. There are other rules that serve their time and place.

Wisdom is discerning the difference.

 

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Rulebooks and Keeping Score

This is the ritual of the burnt offering, the grain offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the offering of ordination, and the sacrifice of well-being….
Leviticus 7:37 (NRSV)

I like to keep score at baseball games. I’ve always been fascinated by the scorebook since I was a regular benchwarmer in the minors at Beaverdale Little League. I would sit on the bench next to the coach’s wife and watch her mark the book as a record of was taking place in the game. I never lost my curiosity for it.

Scoring a baseball game is relatively simple if the game follows a simple story line of strike outs, fly balls, and base hits. But when run downs involving multiple players take place and the pitcher’s mound becomes a turn-style of pitchers called in from the bullpen with runner’s on base, things get incredibly more complex in a hurry. Then layer over it the official scorer’s role of making subjective decisions of whether the batter reached on a base hit (he gets credit for it, and any runs he batted in, and the run gets charged to the pitcher who gave up the hit to the player who scored the run [unless the player who scored the run reached on an error – then the run doesn’t get charged to the pitcher]) or an error (batter doesn’t get credited for the hit, and the error must be charged to either the fielder who should have caught it, the fielder who didn’t throw it effectively, or the other fielder covering the base who didn’t catch it). You get my drift. It gets arcane in a geeked out way.

On our coffee table sits a copy of Major League Baseballs official rule book. On occasion, when a play raises a question about a play or how it is to be scored, I’ll pick it up and try to find the rule. It’s a small book, but it’s a labyrinth of regulatory text. There’s an entire section on how to score. Sometimes it’s hard to find what I’m looking for in rule 4.2 paragraph two, sub-section C line six. The game is still going on. I don’t have that much time if I’m going to keep up with my scorecard.

As I read the chapter this morning I was struck by the way it read like baseball’s rule book. The rules for sacrifice were so complex. It’s a labyrinth of offerings and sacrifices of different kinds for seemingly every occasion. It made me think that the ancient Hebrews had a different sacrifice for every emoji:

I’m feeling thankful today. How do I make an offering for that according to the Levitical rulebook? That’s section 2, offering 3.4, paragraph three.”

“Oops, I accidentally dropped my neighbors pint glass and a shard cut my wife’s foot causing her to jerk her foot back and kick the neighbor’s cat. To whom do I charge the error and who  has to make the guilt sacrifice? Is that a blood sacrifice or just a burnt offering? Burnt offering? Can I do that on the neighbor’s grill?”

It’s overwhelming just to think about living under the weight of that system. I can’t imagine it. Which was, I believe, part of the larger point God was trying to make in the grand theme of the Great Story. “You want to try and do it on your own?” God says. “Okay, here’s the rulebook. Have fun.” Trying to keep score in life, recording errors and then make up for every wrong doing, unintended injury, and moral oversight is impossible.

Then who can be can be saved?” Jesus’ followers asked when the subject came up.

It’s impossible for human beings,” Jesus replied, stating the grand lesson of the Levitical law. “But it’s not impossible for God. God is the one who can and will do it.

Jesus becomes the sacrifice, once for all.

Suddenly, keeping score becomes quite simple. Charge the errors to Jesus. All of them.

Love Trumps Freedom

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I have friends and family members who represent a broad spectrum of generations, backgrounds, beliefs and social customs. When we get together with people we are aware that others have very different thoughts and feelings about all sorts of human rituals and behaviors. From saying a prayer of thanks before a meal to whether it’s acceptable to consume alcohol to choice of appropriate words/topics to the appropriateness of a cigar after a great meal, there are many different considerations.

That’s the crucial word: consideration. When it comes social settings with others of very different beliefs, my behavior is determined largely by whether I consider my beliefs or others beliefs more important to me in that moment.

Paul was dealing with exactly the same situation among the followers of Jesus in the first century town of Corinth. Some of the community felt passionately that it was inappropriate to buy or consume meat that had been sacrificed to one of the many pagan temples there before it ended up in the market.  Others felt just as passionately that it was silly to worry about such things. The result was one of many conflicts that had come to full boil among the diverse community of believers.

For the past three chapters Paul has been addressing this controversy. Yes, he agreed, there is nothing wrong with eating the meat. Those who felt such freedom of conscience were not be convinced otherwise. At the same time, Paul urged those who experienced such freedom to be considerate of those who held different beliefs on the matter. In other words: relatively insignificant dietary rules or beliefs of religious/social propriety are subordinate to the great commandment Jesus gave: Love those who think differently than you do. When you are with them, Paul urged, consider their conscience more important than your freedom. Freedom of conscience is subordinate to the law of love.

As I ponder this principle, I am aware that at times I am admittedly guilty of putting my pride and freedom ahead of others whom I make uncomfortable. I am reminded this morning: Love trumps freedom. Consideration of others trumps the freedom of my conscience. A good thing for me to embrace and apply as I press on with my journey today.

The Big Talker

Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.
Deuteronomy 23:23 (NRSV)

Just a few weeks ago I saw something on television that brought back memories of a kid I knew in high school. He was the big talker. His mouth was a never ending stream of braggadocios comments and tall tales about his experiences and accomplishments past, present, and future. It was so bad that some of his insane statements became legend among my group of friends. As far as I know, he did not remain a friend of any of us for long.

He came to mind again as I read this morning’s chapter. Today’s chapter is full of rather interesting and miscellaneous laws the ancient Hebrews had regarding who could and couldn’t enter the Lord’s assembly, how to handle human excrement/emissions, and the line between snacking from a neighbors grave vine and downright stealing from him. Fascinating, but admittedly not the most inspirational of thoughts for my day.

Then I came to the verse pasted above and it leapt off the page at me. While I can claim innocence from the type of arrogant tall tales of my high school acquaintance, how often have I promised and then not delivered? How often, with the best of intentions, have I stated that I’ll do this or that and then not followed through? Elsewhere in God’s Message is says that if you’ve committed the least of these offenses you’re as guilty as having committed it all. Ugh.

Today, I’m reminded of a simple rule of life: I don’t be a big talker, even in little ways. I don’t want to promise what I can’t or won’t deliver, even with the best of intentions. Say what I’ll do, and do what I say.

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featured image via quotesvalley.com