Tag Archives: Return

Stories, Themes, and Waypoints

“Do not be afraid, Jacob my servant;
    do not be dismayed, Israel.
I will surely save you out of a distant place.”
Jeremiah 46:27 (NIV)

We just finished our Memorial Day weekend at the lake with friends and the kids wanted to watch Star Wars’ Rogue One. As I watched I thought about the underlying story of the hero, Jyn Erso. The movie starts with Jyn as a young girl being separated from her parents (particularly her father), which is infused with all sorts of psychological weight. We quickly meet the adult Jyn, and we find her in prison (in more ways than one) and adrift in life. Through the entire movie we accompany her on her journey to be reunited with her father and reconciled to the larger purpose their own journeys play in the larger story. The last words she hears before that final, fateful moment: “Your father would be proud of you.”

Exile and being “on the run” is a common theme in stories. The Star Wars universe uses it over and over again. In the original Episode 4 we meet Luke in exile with his aunt and uncle on Tatooine along with a mysterious old wizard, Ben Kenobi, also living in his own exile. They leave the planet with Han Solo who is on the run from Jabba the Hut and the bounty on this head. In The Force Awakens we meet Rey living in exile on Jakku where she meets Finn who is… wait for it…on the run from the evil Kylo Ren, who in his own self-appointed exile, having run away from home to join the dark side.

Why do stories, novels, movies, and plays use these same themes and devices over and over again? Because they touch something deep inside us. We identify with them in our own respective journeys. When I listen to people tell the story of their life journey and/or their spiritual journey I’ll commonly hear people speaking in terms of “running,” “getting away,” “thrown out,” “straying,” “rebelling,” “distancing,” or being “far from home.” We get it. We connect with it. It’s part of our common humanity.

With today’s chapter we’re entering the final section of the anthology of the ancient prophet Jeremiah’s works. This final section is a series of prophetic messages Jeremiah made against the nations that made up the socio-political horizon of his day. The messages were seemingly arranged geographically from west to east, beginning with today’s prophetic word against Egypt.

After waxing apocalyptic against Egypt, Jeremiah speaks to his own people, promising them both exile (citing punishment for their idolatrous ways) and the eventual return and reconciliation of their descendants.

Exile and return. There’s that theme again.

This morning I’m sitting at the lake watching the morning fog roll through the trees across the cove. It’s the same view my parents enjoyed for so many years before me. It’s the same view our girls enjoyed growing up. It’s the view I get to introduce to our grandson in a few weeks. There something special about the places that become waypoints in the journey of multiple generations. Generations and their respective stories of being home and being on the run, of exile and return, of separation and reconciliation. The common themes that become a different kind of waypoint, connecting us to the larger story.

…and a Time to Return

Set up road markers for yourself,
    make yourself signposts;
consider well the highway,
    the road by which you went.
Jeremiah 31:21 (NRSVCE)

A few years ago I had the privilege of watching as a play I wrote was produced a couple of different times on stage. Having spent most of my life journey in the state of Iowa, I’ve observed a repetitive theme of those who leave our rather quiet, fly-over homeland for more exciting places. Yet, eventually, most every one returns home. The reasons for return are as varied as the individuals who leave, but for most every one who leaves there comes a time to return.

There is a good story there,” I thought to myself. And so, I sat down to write a play and tell the story of a small town Iowa boy who is forced to come home. In his returning he must confront his past and the reasons he left in the first place.

Over the past few chapters in the anthology of Jeremiah’s messages, I’ve mulled over the way the themes of wilderness and exile play into life’s journey. There’s a corollary theme in the return from wilderness and exile. Just as the hero of every epic spends time in the wilderness, so that same hero must return to carry out the purposes for which he/she has been prepared.

In today’s chapter, the theme of Jeremiah’s prophetic letter to the exiles living in Babylon is all about their homecoming. “Drop breadcrumbs along the road to Babylon,” he tells them. “Mark the way because the time will come for your return home.”

Sometimes on this life journey I’ve observed that the return home is long awaited and desired, just as Jeremiah describes in today’s chapter. Other times, like the prodigal son, one’s homecoming is filled with remorse and repentance. Then there are those times when the return home is part of a larger story about the necessary confrontation required in order to progress yet further on life’s road. And, I suppose, there are times when coming home is a cocktail of all these.

As this morning dawns, the little town where Wendy and I live is preparing for our annual Tulip Time festival. As happens each year there will be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of individuals who will return home to participate in the festivities (we’ll have some of them staying in our house!). I’m thinking about their respective life journeys, the varied stories they represent, and all of the emotions (and perhaps confrontations) that these homecomings will entail. There is a time to leave home, and a time for those living in exile to return.

I’m whispering a prayer in the quiet this morning for each of them, and for God’s goodness and mercy in each of their respective stories.

Return

Return, O faithless children,
    I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you;

     for you are the Lord our God.”
Jeremiah 3:22 (NRSVCE)

I recall an episode with one of our daughters a number of years ago. The details of the episode are irrelevant. Our daughter had placed a considerable amount of relational distance between herself and me. She made some choices that she assumed would not make me very happy, and she basically hid from me for a period of time.

When things were eventually revealed I was, admittedly, upset. My anger, however, was not so much with the choices she feared would upset me as it was with the fact that she felt she must hide and distance herself from me.

“When have we ever been unable to talk things out?”
“When have I ever been unreasonable?”
“When have I ever demanded my own way of you?”
“When have I not allowed you to make your own choices?”
“What must you think of me that you can’t be honest with me?”
“Do you honestly think I would reject you?”
“Do you not realize how much I love you?”
“Do you honestly think my love for you is so conditional?”

These are the questions that plagued me. The injury I felt ultimately had less to do with the choices she had made, for they affected me very little. The injury I felt had more to do with the relational choices   between her and me. They affected me deeply. I love her so much.

Eventually, we talked. We reasoned. There were injuries and misunderstandings that lay underneath the surface. I am not a perfect parent. She is not a perfect child. We slogged through the hard stuff. We forgave. We reconciled. We restored. We learned valuable lessons about ourselves and each other in the process. We let go of what was behind and pressed forward. Old things pass away.

In today’s chapter, Jeremiah’s prophetic poem is about a heavenly father’s frustration with wayward Israel and wayward Judah. Anger and frustration are present, but ultimately there is simply a call to return, to come home, to be reconciled, and for relationship to be restored.

“Return” is a recurring theme throughout the Great Story. Jesus took it to a new level in the beautiful parable of the Prodigal son. Jesus would experience the theme interpersonally in Peter’s denial and ultimate restoration on the shores of Galilee. It is a human story and a Spirit story. We all experience it in various forms both relationally and spiritually in our own respective journeys.

This morning in the quiet I am thinking about the theme of “return” in my own multi-layered experiences across 50-plus years. I’m thinking about my own wayward actions as a son of my parents. I’m thinking about my experiences as a father. I’m thinking about my own prodigal stretches in life when I walked in the shoes of my own daughter; When I made the same mistaken projections and misguided choices.

It’s easy to read God’s Message and to feel the weight of a Father’s frustration so acutely as to miss the heart and the hurt of a loving parent aching for His child to return. Jesus came to recalibrate our thinking and to reconcile us to God…

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”

Return. The Father is waiting.

I’ll Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow

hedgingWhat has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

There has been a lot of talk of late regarding the level of instability in the world. Just last Sunday our pastor, for the first time in his life, publicly declared that he personally believes that some things will continue to get worse and worse and that Jesus will return in the next 30-40 years.

This prompted some good conversations between Wendy and me over breakfast this week as we poured over the latest bad news from around the globe in the Wall Street Journal. I have heard predictions like the one our pastor made many times over the years by people I have considered both wise and intelligent as well as by those whom I’d consider to be fools. Jesus himself said that no one knows the day and the hour and that it will come suddenly “like a thief in the night.” I long ago gave up caring about this prediction or that prediction. I consider that, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes my say, “chasing after the wind.” My only responsibility with regard to Jesus return, according to Jesus own teaching, is to be ready for it to happen. That, I am.

As for things being more violent and unstable in the world, I’m not sure I agree. Things are relatively unstable right now, and we’re all feeling it, but as a student of history I can think of several periods of world history that were both incredibly violent and incredibly volatile.  I believe that if you lived in Europe during the Inquisition you’d find life both violent and volatile because of what the Church was doing. The Middle Ages were extremely unstable and life was extremely violent (they didn’t call them the “Dark Ages” for nothing), and coincidentally, Jesus followers of that day were equally convinced, based on how bad things were, that Jesus’ return was imminent. I think our current generation has already forgotten how unstable and violent the world was during the World Wars of the previous century.

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Some things have changed and there are some things that are unprecedented in human history. Population, for one. There are more people experiencing these things than ever before. Technology and communication are also giving this generation experiences that no generation before has had. I believe that our perception and emotional reaction to world events is greater today because we have instant access to photos and video of every horrific international incident being pushed into the palm of our hands 24/7/365. I believe that our culture is experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety because technology and media is bombarding our eyes and brains with images and first hand reports of every tragedy around the globe. It’s bound to have an effect.

This morning I am pondering the Teacher’s ancient words in light of living in circumstances that he couldn’t even fathom when he wrote them nearly three thousand years ago. Some things don’t change. There are some things that we as humans repeat over and over and over again like a squirrel in a wheel. Other things change greatly. Predicting the future is a risky proposition and getting overly anxious about tomorrow is something that even Jesus to us not to do:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, I’m focused on today and walking the path laid right in front of me. Today I will live and love to the best of my ability right here in the place I am in and the place God has me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Sometimes You Have to Go Home

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...
Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1662–1669 (Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29 (NIV)

There’s something fascinating to me about the theme of going home. I find it one of the most powerful themes in life and in literature, and it is the core theme of a play I wrote. As a matter of fact, it’s also one my favorite things about baseball. How cool is it that the object of a game is to arrive safely home? Jesus even tapped into this theme in the parable that has become arguably his most famous and powerful story: the prodigal son.

One of the common experiences of being human is leaving home. Sometimes the leaving is a natural and healthy part of the process of becoming an adult and making your own way in life. Others have a more harrowing tale to tell of brokenness, abandonment, or escape from an unhealthy family situation. No matter the personal story, I’ve discovered along the journey that at one time or another almost everybody faces this life situation of returning home. Sometimes it’s a fun an nostalgic event, sometimes it’s a journey of repentance, sometimes it’s a confrontational situation or an event fraught with anxiety, fear and uncertainty. Very often, that return home is forced upon us by the death of a loved one as it was for Jacob as he returns to bury his father, Isaac.

I’ve also come to realize that this concept of going home is about reconciliation and about personal peace. I’ve witnessed a restlessness of spirit in those who live with broken relationships or unfinished business back home, especially with parents. The process of facing the issues which are churning that restlessness of soul can be one of the most pivotal and powerful in a person’s life journey. No matter what the outcome, the journey home and the confrontation can be the key to finding a sense of healing – even if it’s only with one’s self.

Sometimes, you have to go home.