Tag Archives: News

The Tension

The Tension (CaD Heb 8) Wayfarer

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem is, and likely will always be, a place of constant tension. The three major world religions consider it sacred space, and this means that there are frequent disputes that take many different shapes. The Al Aqsa Mosque with its gold dome sits atop the Mount surrounded by ancient walls. Below the western wall of the Mosque are remnants of the ancient Jewish Temple, commonly called “the wailing wall” where Jews and Christians pray daily. There is always tension.

I and my two companions were there during a particularly tense political period, things were largely locked down and access was limited. We had two interpreters and guides. One was an older woman, Jewish by birth, who had become a believer in Jesus and considered herself “a completed Jew.” The other was Arab by birth, Jewish by citizenship, and Christian by faith. He was a carpenter in Nazareth.

As we walked along the open area leading to the wailing wall, our female guide spoke of incidents in which Muslims violently attacked and killed Jews at the wall. A few moments later, our male guide quietly leaned into me to explain that the area where we were standing had once been a poor Arab neighborhood which the Jews bulldozed to make public space at the wall. Our time in Jerusalem was like that. Our guides, both followers of Jesus, saw everything from vastly different perspectives. They loved one another, but they often argued (always in Hebrew, which they both spoke but we didn’t). It was a microcosm of the much larger tension that exists there.

Our Arab brother, in particular, quietly saw to it that we experienced the tension first hand. The Temple Mount and Mosque were shut down to tourists because of the tensions, but he insisted on trying to get permission for us to see it briefly. We were grudgingly allowed to ascend a building of the Temple Authorities to view the mosque and its courtyard from the roof over the wall. The entire time we were followed, watched and made to feel the contempt and authority of our disgruntled hosts.

In a separate experience, our guide snuck us as tag-along with a group of Jews visiting the area’s Temple center. Not knowing that four Christians were in the audience, we were treated to hear about the group’s rabid desire to someday rebuild the Jewish Temple and return to the sacrificial system of Moses (complete with blueprints, exhaustive construction plans, and multi-media presentation). As a bonus, we got to hear the presenters speak mockingly of both Jesus and His followers.

I thought of these experiences this morning as I mulled over today’s chapter. The author of the letter to the Hebrews is facing similar tension as he explains that a spiritual shift of tectonic proportions has taken place through Jesus’ death and resurrection. For his fellow Hebrews, this means every religious thing they’ve ever known has changed. The old covenant between God and Moses is literally “obsolete” and a new covenant has taken its place. He then states quite emphatically that the “outdated will soon disappear.”

As I read this I had two thoughts. One was simply that tension that must have existed. Humans don’t like change, and I’ve observed it to be especially true when it comes to well-established and deep-seated religious traditions. The second thought was of Jesus and His followers as they left the Temple mount just days before His impending crucifixion. His followers were impressed with the Temple complex, but Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

And that’s what happened in 70 A.D. when Roman legions descended on Jerusalem to stomp out the Jewish rebellion against Rome. The Temple was torn down. All of the Jewish genealogical records were destroyed, ensuring that it could no longer be definitively established who the descendants of Aaron, Levi, or any other tribe were. Because only descendants of Aaron could be priests, and only Levites could serve in the temple, the sacrificial system was essentially wiped out with the Temple’s destruction.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded that Jesus promised His followers that there would be trouble in this world, along with trials, suffering, and persecution. He said that there will be wars and rumors of war. Nations conspire, people plot, and rulers rage.

There’s always tension.

At the very same time, Jesus told His followers not to allow their hearts to be troubled by such things. He said that there is a peace with which He would leave us. It’s not an international peace, but an inner and interpersonal peace that “passes all understanding” available to me.

In just a moment, I will descend to the kitchen to peruse today’s headlines with Wendy over breakfast. I already know what I will find there. Wars and rumors of war. People plotting. Rulers raging. Tension. I needed the reminder of peace this morning. The words of Isaiah come to mind as I wrap up today’s post:

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

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

Mob Justice

Mob Justice (CaD Matt 27) Wayfarer

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I are creatures of habit. We typically begin each day perusing the news on our iPads as we drink our blueberry spinach smoothies (mine sweet, hers sour) and drink coffee. Quite often we remind one another of a truth that one of her favorite professors at Central College branded into her brain: “You only see what the camera wants you to see.”

News media loves to cover crowds of protestors and mobs rioting, especially if there’s destruction or violence. “If it bleeds it leads” as they say. However, even mobs and protestors can be created for visual, social, and political effects.

Most of us never think about it, but it is no secret that mobs can be bought. The BBC did a story about man in Pakistan who does it for a living. “Gathering a mob – what’s so difficult about that?” he says. “One phone call and a hundred people will come, they can throw stones till nothing is left and if that doesn’t work, it costs very little to buy 10 litres of petrol and set things on fire.” And according to the L.A. Times there’s even a firm in Beverly Hills which will organize a protest for you, though I’m guessing it might cost you a little more than in Pakistan. We’re talking Beverly Hills, after all. There’s also an interesting article in Cracked providing a first-person account of a professional protestor.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the final week of Jesus’ life is the contrast of the crowd shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Sunday, and the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday morning. The longer I’ve studied the text, the more convinced I am that the mob shouting for Jesus’ execution was no accident.

The chief priests and elders had already broken a number of their own laws by the early morning hours that they brought Jesus to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Hebrew jurisprudence held that you couldn’t arrest anyone in the dark of night, nor could you have a trial at night. The verdict was already decided by the time they held the third session of their kangaroo court as dawn was breaking because it was required that you could only sentence someone to death in the light of day.

The religious power brokers were in a hurry to get the deed done. Friday at dusk was not only the beginning of their precious weekly Sabbath, but it was also Passover week. The rushed, clandestine mockery of justice was necessary to have Jesus hanging on a cross as quickly as possible and to ensure it was a done deal before the Passover crowds who’d been singing Jesus’ praises had finished their breakfast and made their way to the Temple. These were powerful, wealthy, and politically connected men who were running the Temple racket. They would have left nothing to chance. They’d already drummed up false witnesses in the middle of the night to testify against. Jesus. It’s likely they knew how to make a small investment of shekels to hire a mob to ensure Pilate perceived that executing Jesus was the politically shrewd call.

In the quiet this morning, I think about our daily breakfast conversations and perusal of the news. One of the things I’ve observed since the dawn of the internet is how quickly things can trend before any facts are known. Not only do we “see only what the camera wants us to see” but increasingly I realize that algorithms ensure “I only see what I want to see.” People are accused, tried, convicted, and executed in the internet court of public opinion in no time at all. Never have I found Jesus’ instruction to His disciples so apt when He sent them out into the world by themselves: “Be shrewd as a serpent, gentle as a dove.”

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?

Finding Contentment

Finding Contentment (CaD Ps 131) Wayfarer

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Psalm 131:2 (NIV)

Sometimes, I think our world lives in a perpetual state of discontent…

Businesses thrive on making me feel discontent that I don’t have this or that.

The magazine rack at the grocery store thrives on making me feel discontented with my body, my looks, my home, and the fact that my life isn’t a Chip and Joanna fairytale.

The news thrives on making me feel discontent with the state of current events and seems to want to keep me focused on fear about everything from the fact that more people are killed each year by vending machines than sharks to the probabilities that the President could push the nuclear button and end the world.

The social media feeds I occasionally follow for my favorite sports teams seem to be 90% discontented fans discontentedly ranting about every loss, every player who’s in a funk, every move the GM makes, and every season that doesn’t end with a championship.

No matter what side of the political aisle you reside there is discontent that the other side exists and that your side doesn’t rule the world.

Social media feeds that I mindlessly scroll through can so easily feed a spirit of discontent that my life doesn’t look like that person’s life.

I sometimes wonder if discontent is such a prevalent and pervasive part of everyday life that I am deaf, dumb, and blind to its omnipresence.

How easily I forget that the serpent’s playbook in the Garden of Eden was to stir discontent within Adam and Eve.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 131, is a short ditty written by King David. It’s just three verses long, but I found the spirit of the lyrics to be so refreshing on a Friday at the end of a busy week. “I have quieted and calmed myself,” he sings. He has centered down in his spirit. He has blocked out all the things he can’t control. He has sought out and found a place of contentment.

In the quiet this morning, I find my soul longing for that place, too. I find it interesting that David claimed responsibility for finding contentment. So often I led to believe that contentment will come when I acquire that thing, when I get to that place in life, or when I make that much money, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera. Contentment seems always to reside on life’s horizon, but David’s lyrics remind me that it’s found within me, in a humble, quieted, and calmed spirit.

I think I’ll end this post and spend a little more time in the quiet this morning.

Have a good weekend, my friend.

The Feed

The Feed (CaD Ps 27) Wayfarer

I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I typically spend the start of our day together. We meet over coffee, a blueberry-spinach smoothie (mine is sweet; Wendy’s is sour), and a perusal of the day’s top stories. We have a couple of media outlets that are our go-to, and occasionally we rabbit trail to others. On weekdays it may only be for a few minutes that we sit together, read, and discuss current events. Saturday mornings we typically enjoy a long and more leisurely breakfast together as we read and discuss. It has been many years since we watched the news on television with any regularity.

In recent years I have made a couple of observations. First, whenever I happen into a room where a news or sports network is playing I am amazed at how jarring it is for me. The sheer volume and motion of visual information scrolling below, above, and on the side of the screen feels like sensory bombardment. Voices are loud, and often there are multiple voices vying for attention with the volume of their voice. Certain subjects are discussed ceaselessly and the discussions are repeated over and over and over again. I wonder how many times the words COVID, coronavirus, or virus are mentioned in a typical hour on any of the news networks.

My other observation is that if I regularly want news that is good, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting I must look for it. There are precious few news outlets who make it a point to find and pass along good news.

In the lyrics of today’s psalm, David has plenty of bad news that he is exorcising through song. Enemies are assailing him, he is surrounded on all sides, and the threat of war is real. There’s not a lot of good news. Then in verses 4 and 5 David makes a very conscious shift…

He turns to God with his request.

He seeks after being in God’s presence.

He makes a conscious effort to find God’s beauty.

“Come,” he says of his heart, “seek [God’s] face!”

By the last stanza of the song David is confident that he “will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But it didn’t just happen. He went looking for it.

I find it fascinating that news being broadcast is called “a feed.” I meditated on that in the quiet this morning. I am fed the news. Writers choose the perspective with which they see the facts. Editors decide which stories get fed to us and which stories get completely ignored. Senior editors decide the larger story they people to be fed with what is seen, heard, and read in their feed.

I have come to understand that my mental diet is as important to my health and well-being as my physical diet. When I mindlessly feed at the trough of any news source, I end up wondering if there is anything good, positive, or optimistic in this crazy world.

There is. Every day God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living:

It’s there. But I’ve learned that I have to consciously choose to turn away from the never-ending, 24/7/365, voluminous, bombarding stream of sickness, death, war, violence, protest, anger, rage, tragedy, greed, and corruption that I am being fed.

I have to choose to feed my heart and mind a regular diet of something that is good for me.

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

Refuge in Royally Troubled TImes

Refuge in Royally Troubled Times (CaD Ps 2) Wayfarer

Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Psalm 2:12

Saturday morning here at Vander Well Manor is typically a lazy affair. Wendy and I will often take our time getting up and going in the morning. We’ll typically sit in the dining room with our pot of coffee (I might even make a special French Press of the good stuff), our spinach and blueberry smoothies, and we’ll take extra time reading the extended weekend edition of the newspaper while we discuss the issues of the day.

This past Saturday morning I commented to Wendy that I hardly want to look at the paper these days. Between the doom, gloom, conflict, chaos, and crazy that seems ever-present in 2020, there are times that it simply feels overwhelming. Can I get a witness!?

Then yesterday morning among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was reminded that “God’s kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.”

This morning’s chapter, Psalm 2, feels like a touch of synchronicity as if God’s Spirit is reminding me of this theme.

The first two psalms are bookended “orphans” (i.e. they have no title) that together frame a thematic introduction to the entire anthology of song lyrics that is the book of Psalms. Psalm 1 begins “Blessed/Happy is the one…” and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed/Happy is the one….” As mentioned in last Friday’s post, Psalm 1 is all about the individual (the personal, Level 1, if you will). It addresses how I want my personal journey to be. Do I want it to be blessed and life-giving or wicked and death-like?

Today’s psalm is a “royal” song that was likely used during the coronation ceremony when one of King David’s descendants was crowned. God, pictured as the ultimate king and power, adopts the earthly ruler (who holds power amidst the [Level 3] institutions of this world) as a child and representative. The king and all the people gathered for the coronation are reminded that they serve God and God’s Kingdom. Ultimately, it is as Jesus prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth.”

Jesus’ followers understood that today’s Psalm was ultimately about Jesus. Peter and John quoted it to comfort and encourage Jesus followers after they had been arrested and then released by the institutional religious authorities who had conspired to have Jesus crucified in Acts 4:25-26:

Why do the nations conspire,
    and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
    and the rulers take counsel together,
    against the Lord and his anointed…

Peter and John, like me, were in the middle of uncomfortable circumstances that were challenging everything they’d ever known and believed. Just a week or two before they thought they’d be picking out the wallpaper for their staff offices in King Jesus’ royal palace. Now they find themselves confronted with the reality that the road is going to be very different and more challenging than they had imagined. But, they weren’t despairing. Psalm 2 was a springboard of faith and encouragement. They found in Psalm 2 a reminder of the resurrected Jesus who was, ultimately, in charge. They began to understand that their mission was that of the King’s ambassadors in a fallen world:

[They prayed] For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look at their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
Acts 4:27-31

In the quiet this morning, I find the Spirit encouraging me amidst my own human weariness with this world. I also find myself challenged to embrace the reality that, like Peter and John, I may have to accept that the road may not be what I’ve always expected it to look like. This world may sink into all sorts of crazy just as it has time and time again throughout the Great Story. But, I know whom I serve. And, His kingdom is unshakable, unbreakable, and not in trouble.

“Happy are all who take refuge in Him.”

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

Panic, Prudence, and a Prediction

The prudent see danger and take refuge,
    but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.

Proverbs 22:3 (NIV)

This past Saturday, Wendy and I made our annual clean-out of the storage room in our basement. This has become an annual event. Each Spring things are picked up and organized. Each year, upon completion, we vow to keep it picked up and organized. Then over the process of a year the room gets cluttered again.

There’s probably a apt proverb about such a pattern of behavior.

Part of the process in the cleanout was going through storage tubs, determining what was in them, and then making decisions about keeping it, pitching it, taking it to the thrift store, or putting it on the curb for what I like to call the town’s semi-annual Sanford & Son Memorial Fest. That’s when scores of pick-up trucks and minivans looking for buried treasure drive slowly up and down the street picking through and salvaging the neighborhood junk.

Sorting through the storage bins I came across an old Bible (I tend to inherit all the family Bibles) that says it belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. Inside the cover are handwritten dates in history such as the end of World War II and President Roosevelt’s death. There is also in the storage tub a stack of newspapers my grandparents held onto. Pearl Harbor, John Glen’s historic trip to space, man walking on the moon, Nixon’s resignation, and etc. To this stack I’ve added some of my own including the historic floods of 1993 and, of course, September 11, 2001.

As I write this, I can’t help but think the historic moment the world is experiencing right now. The world-wide pandemic of the Coronavirus has changed the world as everything shuts down and we are urged to keep our “social distance” in order to try and stop the spread of the virus. In fact, our weekend project was a happy coincidence as we stayed home and did our part.

Like many people, I have quietly been bemoaning the panic (seriously, if you need 300 rolls of toilet paper to make it through a possible 2-3 week quarantine, you’ve got other issues). Daily, I’ve been checking the stats and the numbers are still, blessedly, low.

In a nation of 330 million people, there are 3802 cases in the United States (.001152% or one-thousandth of one percent of the population). Worldwide, the statistics show the death rate to be about 7-8% of those who have gotten the virus, while about 92-93% of those with the virus recover. And, as I’ve been reminding people, the death toll last winter in the United States was over 80,000 deaths from the common flu. In other words, there is really no need to panic or to be afraid.

As I am fond of saying, truth is often found at the point of tension between the two extremes. So, while there’s no need to panic, it is equally important not to be completely dismissive. There is such a thing as prudence which the ancient Sage reminds us in today’s proverb. Medical experts are saying that the Coronavirus is highly contagious, has a long incubation period, can live on surfaces for a long time, and is deadly for those individuals who have weakened immune systems and weak respiratory systems (which, I’d guess, is about 7-8% of the population). The list of those at risk, however, includes people I love dearly including my parents, Wendy’s grandmother, and our grandson, Milo.

And so, while I personally don’t have a lot to be worried about, the world has stopped for a few weeks (maybe months) so that we can keep the virus from getting to Milo and Papa Dean and Grandma Jelly Bean. And, I’m good with that. I thought our daughter, Taylor’s, post said it very well this morning:

I don’t claim to be a prophet, but based on my experience with other tragic, world-interrupting events that I’ve lived through, here’s how I predict this will all play-out. Someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will hear about the great Coronavirus scare of 2020. Maybe they’ll even find a newspaper I placed in the storage bin recording today’s crazy reality. We will talk about how March Madness and every sporting event in the world was canceled. We’ll recount that there were no St. Patrick’s Day celebrations or parades, even in Dublin, Ireland. We’ll talk about school being out for weeks, stupid people hoarding toilet paper, everyone working from home, and social distancing. Then we’ll laugh about the generation known as the “Coronavirus Kids” or some other catchy term, who were all born nine-months after couples were stuck at home with no sports on television. We might be able to remember someone we knew who died of the virus. Then, we’ll talk about the fact that after a few weeks of crazy life returned to normal, the markets recovered, sporting events began again, and how, blessedly, very few people died in the grand scheme of things.

I was scheduled to be in Des Moines today for a meeting with a client. Just a few minutes ago I received an email from the client inviting us, “in light of the COVID-19 hype,” to join them and “play along” as we have a conference call instead of a face-to-face meeting.

Sounds like a prudent thing to do. Sure, I’ll play along.

Stay healthy, my friend.

Living in Gray

When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem.
Esther 2:8 (NIV)

Yesterday at the breakfast table Wendy and I were having breakfast and reading the news, as is our daily habit. Wendy happened upon a news piece that quite clearly divided the United States into two generalized racial groups. Implied in the article was the notion that in America you are either black or white. I find the distinction of choice ironic.

The simplistic divide does not account for the vast number of people of Hispanic, Asian, or Native American descent, nor does it account for the population of interracial couples and their children which, according to U.S. Census figures, has steadily grown since 1967 and continues to do so.

Our culture loves binary, either-or choices. I have observed this to be true of both institutional religion and mainstream news media who are critical one another. When dealing with a large population of people, simple binary choices are much easier to deal with. Here are some examples from both of them:

  • Black or White
  • Conservative or Liberal
  • Fox News or MSNBC
  • Capitalism or Socialism
  • Red State or Blue State
  • Progressive or Deplorable
  • Blue Collar or White Collar
  • Educated or Uneducated
  • Urban or Rural
  • Republican or Democrat
  • Protestant or Catholic
  • Sacred or Secular
  • Christian or Secular
  • Holy or Worldly
  • Evangelical or Mainline
  • Religious or Atheist

And yet, as I have traversed this earthly journey and spiritually followed in the footsteps of Jesus, I find most binary distinctions simplistic and inadequate for addressing complex circumstances and issues. The world and its people with whom I interact every day are an elaborate mosaic of DNA, thought, spirit, background, and experience. To put one complex person into one of two binary boxes for the sake of simple definition is foolishness.

One of the things that I love about the story of Esther is how God works through this young Jewish woman who appears to navigate the tremendously gray territory between binary choices of Jew or Gentile, Hebrew or Persian, and Moral or Immoral. She keeps her heritage and faith secret. Whereas Daniel refused to eat meat provided by his foreign captors, Esther has no such qualms. There is no indication that Esther balks at being part of the Persian harem system that would have instructed her how to pleasure the king sexually on demand.

The book of Esther has confounded binary thinkers for ages. One commentator wrote that Esther’s behavior would not pass any test of modern ethical theory. Her cultural compromises coupled with the pesky fact that God is never mentioned by name in the story led some editors in history to introduce prayers into the book that were never part of the original text along with commentary stating that Esther hated being married to a Gentile. I’ve observed that when the truth is too gray for our comfort zone, we like to shade it to fit our personal binary leanings.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the value and importance of a story like Esther. She successfully navigates a very uncomfortable world of gray politically, culturally, religiously, and morally. From a position of powerlessness and critical compromise, she is used for God’s purposes in profound and powerful ways. In a time when our political, religious, cultural, and social systems seem perpetually intent on placing me in one of two simplistic boxes, I pray I can, like Esther, find a way to successfully navigate the territory of gray that lies in tension between simplistic, black-and-white definitions.

A Different Kind of Diet

“Hamath and Arpad are dismayed,
    for they have heard bad news.
They are disheartened,
    troubled like the restless sea.”
Jeremiah 49:23 (NIV)

I’ve been dieting of late, but it has nothing to do with food. I’ve been on a news diet. A while back Wendy and I recognized that the 24/7/365 cable and internet news cycle is as good for our hearts, minds, and souls as a steady diet of Twinkies would be for our bodies.

We have more instant access to global news and information than any one has experienced in recorded history. News outlets exist to get as many consumers listening/reading/clicking as possible so they can charge more money for advertising dollars and make money for their owners. How do you get more people to pay attention to your news? Sensationalize. Hype. Create buzz. Turn mole hills into mountains. Pander to your base. Fudge. Spin. Repeat.

While it is important for me to be aware of what’s going on in our world, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to stream non-stop news feeds into my brain from every device I own. This is why I liken it to dieting. I learned a long time ago that my body needed far less food than I (and my appetites) thought it did. Portion control changed my physical health for the better. I realize that portion control of news and information will, likewise, change my mental and psychological health for the better.

In today’s chapter, the prophet Jeremiah continues his series of prophetic messages to the neighboring nations of his day.

Ancient empires learned early on that one of the keys to quickly conquering other peoples was purely psychological. The greater your reputation for mayhem and destruction, the more fear you could strike in the hearts of your foes before you arrived, the easier they would be to defeat. In fact, they might just surrender rather than fight.

Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning Damscus was simply this: They were going to be a pushover because they allowed fear to seize them and paralyze them.

Time and time again Jesus told his followers “Don’t be afraid,” and yet I observe that the culture around me seems more and more driven by fear, worry, panic, and frenzy. I’ve observed that my news feed and its “If it bleeds it leads” mentality seems to want to keep me hooked like a drug on fear and worry that will, in turn, keep me coming back to find out what will happen next.

So, I’m on a news diet. I’m choosing to control my intake. I can already feel myself losing the weight of fear and worry.

“What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”                                   – Jesus (Mt 6:31-34 MSG)

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.