(Un)Like Father, (Un)Like Son (CaD 2 Sam 18) –
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. As Wendy and I spent time with our young grandchildren this week, we couldn’t help but have the requisite conversations regarding who each of them resembles in the family.
It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not the similarities, but the contrast between David and his rebellious, patricidal 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 both respect and gentleness. 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 by 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 adult daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they have each 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 in the quiet I find myself 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, are great examples of living on opposite sides of that line.
A Note to Readers I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m taking a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading. Today’s post was originally published in May 2014.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
More than "Boy Meets Girl" (CaD Ruth 2) –
So [Ruth] went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” Ruth 2:3-4 (NIV)
When I told Wendy yesterday that I’d begun the story of Ruth, her response was, “Oh good! I love the story of Ruth!” I was not surprised by this. In fact, I mentioned it because I knew she would be pleased. When Wendy and I were married, we wrote our own vows. Her vows to me included Ruth’s vow to Naomi:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
The story of Ruth often resonates deeply with women. It’s a boy meets girls story, and it is basically an ancient version of the film Pretty Woman. Destitute young woman who is a societal outcast and pariah meets older man of means. As I’m fond of saying: “All good stories are reflections of the Great Story.”
But there’s more going on under the surface of the boy meets girl romance in the story of Ruth. Ruth is a story of redemption, and it’s important for 21st century readers to understand a bit of context.
The early chapters of the Great Story are about God calling one man, Abraham, and growing his descendants into a nation. That doesn’t happen overnight, but over centuries as Abraham’s grandson has twelve male sons/grandsons who become leaders of tribes (the story of Abraham through Jacob and his sons is told in Genesis). Those tribes then become slaves in Egypt for 400 years before Moses led their deliverance. Then God has the difficult task of turning slaves who have had zero autonomy, freedom, or education for generations into a fully functioning nation. To facilitate this, God give them His law through Moses (this story is told in the books of Exodus and Leviticus). What’s utterly fascinating about the law of Moses is that it is an ancient blueprint for how a nation and society should function lawfully and it prescribes ways for managing common societal ills including immigration, incurable and infectious diseases, and poverty. Those issues sound familiar?
Having a blueprint is one thing. Actually convincing a couple of million former slaves in the brutal world of the ancient near east to actually implement it is another. The time of the Judges, in which this Pretty Woman story of Ruth takes place, is a time when the implementation is failing miserably. This new nation remains a tribal system with no central leadership, violent wars and feuds within and without, and little adherence to the laws and blueprint God had given them.
In today’s chapter, we’re introduced the prototype of Richard Gere’s character in Pretty Woman. We learn that Boaz is a “guardian-redeemer” or “kinsman-redeemer.” This was part of the societal blueprint God gave through Moses. Men in each family clan within each tribe were appointed as “redeemers” to care for those in their clan who’d been dealt a bad hand. The law required leaving part of your field unharvested so the poor in your clan could glean food for themselves. It required the redeemer to buy-back (e.g. “redeem”) clan members who, because of poverty, had been sold into slavery. It required them to help widows of child-bearing years to bear heirs who would then be responsible to care for them so they wouldn’t become a drain on the nation at large. Only, men in the time of the Judges were not known for living up to their responsibility or following the blueprint.
Boaz is far more than just a dashing figure with salt-and-pepper hair who looks good in an Armani suit and Julia Roberts on his arm. The first thing we hear from Boaz is his greeting to his own servants: “The Lord be with you.” Boaz is, first-and-foremost, God’s man, and that lays the foundation for the rest of the story. At a time when not following God and His blueprint led the nation into repeated chaos, violence, war, and tragedy, Boaz represents how when those with status, wealth, and power within the system trust God and faithfully follow the blueprint, they become agents of redemption and the entire society benefits.
In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about a larger conversation going on right now within our culture in which the Christian church is accused of not following Jesus’ blueprint of caring for “the least of these.” I won’t deny that this is true, though I believe that it is a broad-brush, black-and-white generalization that completely paints over the tremendous work of sincere followers of Jesus, throughout history, who fulfill Jesus’ mission of caring for the marginalized and improving life and humanity on earth.
I also can’t help but think about Boaz. He’s simply one faithful believer who is obedient within his clan. He may not be altering the course of the entire nation in those dark times, but he is altering the course of Ruth, Naomi, his clan, and his community. Boaz is an agent of redemption within his circles of influence. Imagine if there was one Boaz in every clan in every tribe in that day?
I often read the headlines over coffee with Wendy in the morning and enter my day feeling impotent to make a difference in the national and global problems plaguing the world. This morning, I’m reminded that I have the power and ability to be a Boaz.
“Be a Boaz.” That’s the cry of my heart as I enter this day.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27 (NIV)
Our local schools start up next week. Social media is filled this week with pictures of parents taking their Freshman college students to campus. Many of our friends are among them. Next week it will be pictures of the first day of school and Wendy and I will exclaim repeatedly, “Oh my word, he’s grown!” and “Goodness, she’s gotten so big!” Time marches on.
I remember my parents commenting many years ago about reaching the point in life in which they “dodged the bullet.” They had added up the number of children of friends and relatives who, along the way, they had agreed to take in if the parents met with an untimely end. It was a big number. My parents are good people.
Fast forward to today. It’s Wendy and me watching the children of our friends and relatives becoming young adults coming of age. We’re beginning to recognize that we are getting ever nearer to that same “dodge the bullet” milestone.
Today’s chapter records the torture, death sentence, crucifixion, and death of Jesus. As I continue to follow the theme of identity woven through John’s biography, there were two things that stood out.
The first is the power-play happening between the religious leaders, who could not legally execute someone under Roman law, and the Roman Governor, Pilate, who knows that Jesus was not guilty of anything deserving death. Having been politically railroaded into sentencing Jesus to crucifixion, Pilate has a sign made that identified Jesus as “King of the Jews” in three languages and placed on Jesus’ cross. He certainly did it to insult the religious leaders; Mission accomplished. I could’t help but recall Jesus telling Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world” and Pilate’s response: “Then you are a king.” Was there, perhaps, a hint of respect for this innocent man made political scapegoat?
Jesus hung on the cross naked, bloody, bruised, and beaten. He looks down from the cross to see His own mother. Next to her stands John, the only one of The Eleven with the courage to show up. Taking into account all four biographies of Jesus in the Great Story, Jesus made seven statements from the cross. One of them was caring for His own mother, and making sure that John would care for her. “She is now your mother, John. Mom? He is now your son.”
In the quiet this morning, I think about the roles we play in the lives of others and the way that changes. Last week Wendy had coffee with Kennedy, the daughter of our friends who is heading to college today. Wendy presented her with a ring. It was a rite of passage, and Wendy made it perfectly clear that in coming into adulthood Kennedy was joining a community of women who look out for one another. The ring is to serve as a reminder to Kennedy that she has a community of women she can count on. I guess it was Wendy’s way of acknowledging that she’ll still “take the bullet” for our friends and her daughter, it just hits one differently at this stage of life’s journey.
That’s what community is really all about. We look out for one another and their loved ones. We’re willing to “take the bullet” whether that means raising a friend’s children or helping care for a friend’s parents. We have a role to play, not only in the lives of our friends, but also in the lives of their loved ones. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He told His disciples the previous night: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As Jesus lays down His life for John and for the sins of the world, John lays down his life for Jesus, and agrees to take in Jesus’ mother as his own.
May I always be willing to “take the bullet” so to speak, and lay down my own life, time, energy, and resources, for my friends and their loved ones.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Those who are even occasional readers of my posts know that I often make reference to the Enneagram. We were first introduced the Nine Types by our daughter many years ago. As it’s grown in popularity, we have been asked to introduce it and discuss it with various groups. We are, by no means, experts. We have simply shared our personal experiences of understanding and how the Enneagram has helped our relationship as we have come to understand and appreciate one another in deeper ways.
Over the years we’ve had many, many conversations with individuals, couples, and groups about the Enneagram. Of course, one of the first questions that is asked is, “Do you know what type you are?” Wendy and I quickly began noticing a certain pattern among women who are card-carrying followers of Jesus living primarily in Christian community.
They almost all say they are Type Twos (a.k.a. “The Helper”). Here’s the summary description of Type Two from the Enneagram Institute:
Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.
The problem, of course, is that it’s not possible for 80-90% of Christian women to be Twos. Either only females who are Twos follow Jesus, or those who do follow Jesus are miraculously transformed into Twos by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As Wendy and I pondered and contemplated this phenomenon, we came to the realization that “Twos” sound eerily similar to the ideal wife and mother described in the epilogue of Proverbs; She is otherwise known as “The Proverbs 31 Woman.” Motherhood, in and of itself, requires the actions of self-sacrifice and unselfishness that come naturally to Twos. Yet, a person’s Enneagram Type is not rooted in actions, but motivations. I have come to believe that many individuals fall prey to this confusion. They may project themselves to be, or truly desire themselves to be, that idealized version of womanhood that both the church and Christian community have relentlessly told them they should be.
In today’s chapter, the book of ancient wisdom ends with a rather eloquent description of a “wife of noble character.” She’s the picture-perfect supportive spouse who is an asset to her husband’s public image and career. She’s the super-charged industrial homemaker and the perfect mix of Joanna Gaines and Martha Stewart. Her clothes, decor, and children are all Pinterest-worthy. She’s tireless and shrewd. She’s the undisputed CEO of the home which always runs with efficiency, organization, productivity, timeliness, and keeps the household budget always in the black. She is intelligent, spiritual, and practically wise; a combination of Beth Moore and Jen Hatmaker. Her children think she’s the coolest mom in the world, and they all dutifully reflect her Proverbs-Thirty-One-ness in dress, appearance, and behavior. Her husband would never look twice at any of the “wayward” and “adulterous” women that Proverbs has been incessantly mentioning for thirty chapters, and this is because…well…while charm may be deceptive and beauty fleeting, “The Proverbs 31 Woman” actually has those, too! She’s the whole package.
Except, no woman is all these things. In my almost 40 year journey of being an adolescent-to-adult male and a follower of Jesus, I’ve never met a Proverbs 31 Woman. I’ve met women who seem to look like her. They project her image, but it’s never real. She’s just an air-brushed model on a magazine cover painted and lit to look like the ideals of maternal, marital, and spiritual virtue.
I’m probably going to get into trouble writing this, but let me share with you the observation of an old dude who’s spent his entire life surrounded by and in relationships with amazing girls and women.
Unintentionally, the book of Proverbs can easily do a disservice to the women in my life. The ancient sages Solomon, Agur, and Lemuel lived in a brutal, patriarchal society that developed out of a need for a strict social order (as I explored yesterday) to ensure survival. Women are presented in Proverbs in a binary fashion: bad (wayward, adulterous, contentious, quarrelsome) or ideal (The Proverbs 31 Woman). So, lady, what’s it going to be? Do you want to be good or bad? And, if you want to be good, then you must be ideal.
I’ve observed along my journey that the women in my life often allow themselves to fall into these binary mental traps: fat or skinny, beautiful or ugly, sexy or lonely, smart or dumb, popular or not, trendy or so-not-with-it, and etc. So, what I’ve observed happening are perpetual cycles of pressure, hopelessness, despair, striving, depression, and never-ending comparison to others hoping (and/or judging) “If I’m not ideal then at least I’m better than….”
So, I’m going to wade into dangerous territory this morning and I beg your grace and forgiveness upfront. If this old husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, employer, mentor, colleague, neighbor, and friend were to re-define what Proverbs calls a “woman of noble character” for all the amazing women in my life it would go something like this:
A Becoming Woman
If you find a becoming woman, you are blessed.
She is learning to embrace the individual, in mind, body (all of it), and spirit just as her loving Creator intentionally and uniquely knit her DNA together.
She has made an honest inventory of both her personal strengths and her intimate struggles; She is persevering in her efforts to build on the former while diminishing the latter.
She seeks roles and positions that make the most of her unique gifts and abilities, though they may not fit the dreams she once had, the norms of her community, or the expectations that others have placed on her.
She is learning how to accept God’s grace and forgiveness for all of the mistakes, faults, imperfections, and sins that she knows so well, even when others have not forgiven her; She is learning how to be gracious with herself, letting go of her own desires for perfection. She embraces the knowledge that she’ll still be learning all of these things when she reaches the end of this earthly journey.
She loves her husband and children genuinely, sometimes passionately, though often deficiently. She embraces the journey of becoming that is being a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. She presses on, neither denying the many faults and mistakes of her past nor becoming complacent in the onward journey of becoming that is always leading her further up and further in.
She is doing her best for her family even though it feels like a thankless task most days. She is struggling constantly against the lie that she is a hopeless failure in her role and responsibilities. She is learning to let it go when all that she has already done is summarily ignored while the incessant demands for more keep building up, seemingly with every moment.
She is realizing that the Creator has lovingly made each of her children as unique as she, herself, is unique. She desires that each of them becomes the individual God has made them to be. She desires that each child discover the unique purposes God has for them, even as she’s learning in fits and starts to let go of her own personal desires and expectations which can feel so instinctual and can be so strong at times.
She is learning to care more about the emotional and spiritual needs of her child than she cares about how her child’s appearance, actions, achievements, failures, words, and/or behaviors might influence how others, especially other women, in the community perceive her and her mothering skills.
She is purposefully mindful of her own needs and is learning that taking care of herself in mind, body, and spirit is necessary to manage every other role and relationship in her life.
She is purposefully mindful of her husband’s needs. She is learning to meet the unique needs that fill his love tank (though it may not fill hers), speak his unique love language (though she may not be fluent), and to be gracious with his unique shortcomings as she needs him to be gracious with hers. She is learning to encourage his own unique gifts, strengths, and purposes even when she realizes that they aren’t what she once thought they were or what she wants them to be.
She has surrounded herself with other good women who know her faults and love her anyway and who speak truth into her even when she doesn’t want to hear it. They are present even when time and/or miles create physical separation. They pick her up when she is down. They cheer her on in her endeavors and celebrate her in her accomplishments. They struggle through and survive relational strife with one another, learn to forgive one another, and graciously walk life’s journey together all the days of their lives.
She is learning, persevering, seeking, letting go, embracing, pressing on, realizing, desiring, purposeful, struggling, endeavoring, loving, giving, caring, forgiving, and she is surrounded.
A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!
I have a vivid memory from childhood. I was around ten or eleven years old and was embroiled in a competitive neighborhood game of “kick the can.” I don’t know if it’s even played by kids anymore. An empty coffee can was set up in our backyard. One of the neighbor kids was “It” and tasked with protecting the can and tagging anyone “out” who attempted to successfully kick the can before getting tagged. If anyone actually accomplished kicking the can, then all those who had previously been tagged “out” would be free and the game would continue.
I was one of the last chances for all those who had been tagged. I made my approach around the back of the garage and waited for “It” to turn his back. I made my run for the can. I lunged in desperation, executing a feet-first baseball slide to try and avoid the tag. I fell short and was tagged out by my gloating neighbor.
“GOSH DARN IT!” I exclaimed at the top of my lungs.
Only I didn’t say, “Gosh darn it.” I screamed the actual bad phrase, cussing like a sailor in my anger and frustration. Looking up, I saw my father standing on the patio a few feet away coiling the garden hose.
Busted right in front of the judge, jury, and executioner. I was condemned to spend the rest of that glorious summer evening in my room listening to the rest of the neighborhood kids playing outside my window. Desperate, I pleaded the youngest child’s defense.
“But Dad, I’m only repeating what I heard Tim and Terry say! They say it all the time!”
My appeal was summarily denied. There was no mercy for the innocent waif who had been deceived by his elder siblings and led, unknowingly, down the path of sinful exclamations. I trudged up the stairs to my prison cell and an early bedtime like a dead man walking, sure that I had been wronged.
Wendy and I often find ourselves in the fascinating social position of being in a life stage just ahead of many of our friends. As such, we observe our friends parenting children in various stages of personal development from childhood to young adults; stages we’ve already traversed with our girls. I am constantly amazed to watch children develop and go through various stages of maturity.
One of the most critical lessons in personal development is that of taking responsibility for one’s actions. It’s amazing to watch kids in the defensive machinations like my own elder sibling defense (it never works). I have witnessed kids expertly play the excuse, denial, blame, and wrongfully accused strategies with their parents like Grand Master chess players attempting to beat Watson. What’s really interesting to watch is when they finally have to own up to responsibility for their own foolishness, and how they handle it.
In today’s chapter, Ezra and the returning exiles are faced with a social and religious problem. The Hebrews’ faith is unlike any of the local religions practiced by other tribes inhabiting the land. Theirs is a holy, imageless, all-powerful God who seeks obedience, personal responsibility, and moral uprightness. Around them is a plethora of local pagan cults whose worship includes drunkenness, ritual sex and prostitution, child sacrifice, and all sorts of licentious practices. Throughout their history, Hebrew men have intermarried with local women. They soon found themselves participating in the local cults their wives belonged to along with religiously attending to the rituals of their own faith. Eventually, many simply walked away from the faith of their ancestors and assimilated into the local culture
I found Ezra’s prayer of confession and petition is a great example of responsibility. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t point blame. He doesn’t try to minimize. He confesses honestly, takes full responsibility, and places himself at the mercy of the Almighty.
In the quiet this morning I find myself doing a little soul searching. Where in my life am I still playing an adult version of the child-like chess match of excuses, blame, obfuscation, and justification? Where do I need to step up, like Ezra, and confess honestly and forthrightly? What are the areas of life that I need to make a change?
If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. 1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)
Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.
Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.
It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues. It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.
And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.
There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”
In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”
Along my journey I have experienced worship in diverse traditions and settings. I grew up in a mainline Protestant tradition that could be described as “high church.” I grew up wearing a formal choir robe and marching in a long, formal, choral processional into the sanctuary accompanied by a pipe organ. There was a dictated pattern and order to every service even to the point of the minister standing in different positions to deliver different parts of the liturgy and message.
From that launching point I’ve worshipped in rather raucous Pentecostal services, in cold medieval cathedrals, in squirrelly Junior High church camp chapels, in fundamentalist Baptist churches with their own take on legalistic liturgy, in a third world, tin-shack hut you would scarcely call a church, in stadium revivals, and, well, you get my point.
In my early adult years I spent some time in the Quaker tradition, which is 180 degrees from the experience of my youth. The Quakers attempt to recapture the spirit of the early gatherings of the Jesus Movement like what Paul is addressing in his letter to the believers in Corinth. It’s a small, egalitarian setting. Everyone is welcome to participate. They spend time in silence to “center” themselves and wait for Holy Spirit move. People stand and speak as the Spirit prompts them with a word, or a song, or a prayer. It was a fascinating experience from which I learned some valuable lessons.
In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing what was a pressing issue within the context of the corporate gatherings of Jesus’ followers when there was no real tradition, very little organization, a loose authority structure, and everything that was happening was new and different than anyone had experienced. With lack of structure, authority, and order things can quickly get out of control. That was happening among the Corinthian believers. Paul is writing to try and to encourage some order.
There are three broad lessons that I’ve learned from the diversity of my worship experiences in different traditions.
First, if my spirit is open I can learn from every experience. The metaphor and pageantry of high church liturgy is beautiful and layered with meaning once you begin to see it. The Quaker tradition taught me the power of quiet, and that Holy Spirit can and does speak through the most unlikely of vessels in extraordinary ways. It’s so easy to fall into “either-or” thinking when it comes to different worship traditions. I have benefitted from the “both and” approach, entering every worship experience with an open and seeking heart and mind.
Second, there are opportunities and threats in every established tradition. I found the liturgical provides me the opportunity of structure, order, and a comfort that comes with repetition and discipline. The threat is that it can easily become rote words and religious actions void of the Spirit or any personal connection. Likewise, the contrasting organic style of the Quaker tradition gave me the opportunity to experience learning from diverse individuals and recognizing how God can move and speak through everyone. The threat I found is that discerning between flesh and Spirit is always a bit messy, and individuals sometimes speak their own personal desires and opinions cloaked in “God told me” language.
Third, no matter the corporate worship setting or experience, ultimately I am responsible for my own spiritual journey and my own divine dance in every corporate worship experience. I am responsible for my attitudes going into corporate worship. I am responsible to be humble, loving, and gracious in the midst of it. I am responsible to observe, to learn, to ask, seek, and knock. I am am responsible to be grateful for the opportunity, forgiving of that which may possibly offend me, and humble enough to admit there may be things which I don’t fully understand.
Last week I had a CrossFit workout done with a partner. There were four weight lifting exercises with 25, 35, 45 and 55 reps, respectively. These were shared. My partner and I chose to alternate doing five reps each, back and forth, until they were completed. Between each weightlifting exercise we both had do 12 “over the bar burpees” together, at the same time. Each of us was responsible to do all 12 reps, even though we did them together.
In today’s chapter, I noticed what seemed to be a contradiction in Paul’s instructions to the followers of Jesus in Galatia. First he tells them to “carry each others burdens,” but then a few sentences later he tells them that each person should “carry their own load.” So, which is it? Carry each other’s burdens or carry your own load?
As I dug into the original Greek words Paul used when he wrote the letter, I found that he used two very different words for “burden” and “load.” When talking about carrying each other’s burden he used a form of the Greek word “baros” which literally means a weight. He’s just finished stating that if a brother or sister is caught in a sin we should “restore them gently.” The picture here is that we all have our own shortcomings. Everyone, even the best of us, will blow it from time to time because we’re human and we all have our faults.
This is a partner workout. When you’re struggling I’m going to be there to help you carry the weight. And you do the same for me when I’m struggling. We alternate and share the reps so that we can mutually encourage one another and allow for mutual “restoration” back and forth.
A few sentences later Paul uses the word “phortion” (for-tee-on) when he says one should carry their own “load.” This specifically means a burden that is not transferrable. It can’t be shared.
Which brings me back to the workout last week. The weightlifting exercises was “baros.” It was a shared burden as we alternated. One of us carried the weight as the other rested and was restored. Back and forth. The Burpees, on the other hand, were “phortion” and each of us was responsible to do all twelve reps. The Burpees were our own load to carry, and we couldn’t transfer the reps to our partner. (Though there was mutual encouragement as we did them together, in unison. We weren’t alone as carried our personal Burpee burden, which is a completely different spiritual lesson.)
Along this life journey I’ve found that I have different kinds of burdens to carry as I make my way along the path. Sometimes burdens are mutual and I share them with my partners and companions. Other times I have a load that is mine alone to carry and no one else can carry it for me. In the quiet this morning I’m pondering some of life’s burdens. Once again, I find myself asking three familiar questions that provide important definition to life:
Yesterday at work I was helping a client with their company’s internal Quality Assessment criteria. One of the common mistakes made when it comes to assessing quality of a service interaction is the avoidance of defining simple, observable behaviors. Instead companies often create criteria in ways that leave the assessment wide-open to the analyst’s interpretation. An analyst who has a bent towards strict, “they could have done better” thinking will mark it one way while an analyst with a bent towards a more gracious “they did the best they could” thinking will mark it another way. The result is worthless data.
Along my journey I’ve observed these kinds of differences in all manners of life. We have diverse personality types with bents toward interpreting and reacting to the same set of circumstances in equally diverse ways. We have differences in life experiences, differences in world-view, and differences in life situations that all lend themselves to me seeing and interpreting things a particular way, while you may see it a bit differently.
I don’ know if you’ve caught it in these chapter-a-day posts the past couple of weeks, but one of the interesting things about the historic accounts we’re reading in 2 Chronicles is that the same historical events are also covered in the book of 1 Kings. One of the things I’m discovering is that some of the most fascinating lessons I’m learning come from comparing the two different accounts. They were written by different scribes living in different time periods and circumstances.
Take today’s chapter for example. The Chronicler tells a great story about Abijah’s (King of the southern kingdom of Judah) battle with the rebel Jereboam (King of the northern kingdom of Israel). Abijah’s battle speech is quoted at length in which Abijah blasts Jereboam for abandoning the God of Israel while Abijah and his tribe of Judah are still worshiping and trusting the God of their ancestors. The Chronicler then leaves his account of Abijah’s reign on a positive note. Abijah defeated Jereboam, grew strong, and had a bunch of wives and children.
The scribe of 1 Kings, however looked at the same reign of Abijah and described it differently. The account of Abijah’s reign is much shorter and the battle speech wasn’t mentioned at all. The writer of the 1 Kings account gives a more negative conclusion of Abijah’s reign:
He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been.
As I’ve progressed in my Life journey I’ve come to recognize that human groups and systems (religious denominations, political parties, families, communities, and etc.) are naturally driven to building a sense of unity and safety by seeing and interpreting things the same way. These same systems, and the members of that system, often become resistant to respecting, considering, and working with systems that see and interpret things a different way. I become afraid. I feel threatened. I entrench myself in my thinking. I attack and discredit the person or system that thinks differently.
The types of rote and repetitive sales and service interactions I assess on a regular basis for my work are relatively easy to break down, define, and interpret once you know how to do it. Driving a consistent and repetitive user experience is one thing. Reducing an individual’s lifetime of stories, experiences, events, choices, words, and relationships into bullet point is a completely different ball game.
Of late I’ve been feeling the pain and frustration of watching societal groups and their members entrench themselves out of fear and suspicion of anyone who thinks differently. I find myself personally rebelling against that mentality. As a follower of Jesus I find it antithetical to the inclusive, boundary-breaking love that Jesus exemplified and commanded of those of us who follow Him. I always tell the Customer Service Representatives I coach and train that Rule #1 is “do the best you can with what you have.” I’m trying to do the same thing with my faith. I can’t change the entire culture of a nation, but I can daily control my own words, actions, interactions, and relationships. I can change the culture around me, the one I immediately impact.
Today, I once again endeavor to be a little more respectful, a little more considerate, a little more open, and a little more loving to the people I run into and those with whom I interact. People who may be members of a group who interpret the world much differently than myself.
Many years ago my friend, a marriage and family therapist, introduced me to three simple questions to ask whenever I am seeking definition of personal responsibility and boundaries in a relationship:
It’s amazing how some of the most profound things in life can be so simple. Time and time again I’ve returned to these questions. I’ve asked these questions in my marriage. I’ve asked them with regard to parenting my children. I’ve asked them with regard to my company and team members. I’ve asked them with regard to clients. I’ve asked them about personal relationships with friends, with organizations, and with acquaintances expecting something of me.
At the heart of these questions is the understanding that individuals and groups of individuals have responsibilities within any human system. When individuals have well-defined responsibilities and an understanding of those responsibilities the system functions in a healthy way. When relationships and human systems break down, it is often because of lack of definition, misunderstanding, and/or the boundaries have been breached.
I think this is your responsibility but you seem to expect it of me.
I want this to be ours together, but you appear to want to control it as yours.
This is an area where I have gifts and abilities and would like to handle it, but you keep trying to insert yourself in the process.
In today’s chapter, Solomon finishes his dedication of the Temple and God shows up in an amazing display of spiritual pyrotechnics. King Solomon, the priests, the worship band, and the congregation are all blown away. Everyone is on a spiritual high. A subtle repetition of phrasing used by the Chronicler is “the king and all the people” (vss 4 and 5) and “all Israel” or “all the Israelites” (vss 3, 6, and 8).
At some point after the successful dedication, God appears to Solomon at night for a heart-to-heart. In his conversation, God defines separate responsibilities for “my people” (vss 13-16) and for Solomon as King (vss 16-22). In other words, “Solomon, you can consider these certain responsibilities ‘ours’ to own as a nation and a people. These other things are ‘yours’ to own and be responsible for as King and leader of the people. And, these other things are ‘mine’ to own conditional to everyone owning the things for which each is responsible. If everyone owns their part then the system will work really well. If not, well the results will not be so good.”
Having just journeyed through the prophetic works of Jeremiah, I know that the kings eventually failed to own the responsibility that was theirs. The people failed to own their responsibilities. The system broke down, and what God warned would happen is exactly what happened.
This morning I’m thinking about my marriage, my family relationships, friend relationships, my work, and the organizations in which I’m involved. I’m doing a little inventory. Where are things working well? Where are things strained and struggling? Where have things broken down?
Am I doing those things that are mine to own?
Am I allowing others to be responsible for what is theirs, and maintaining a balance of support, encouragement and accountability?
Am I working well with others and being a good team member in accomplishing those things for which we, together, are responsible?