Tag Archives: Story

#8: The Archetype of the Lone Stranger

Top Chapter-a-Day Post #8 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published on August 8, 2017

The king asked them, “What kind of man was it who came to meet you and told you this?”

They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”
2 Kings 1:7-8 (NIV)

Wendy and I have no cable or satellite television at our place on the lake. We can’t even get a digital broadcast signal. So, when we’re at the lake we tend to watch movies from our collection of DVDs. A while back we watched a young Clint Eastwood in one the spaghetti westerns that made him famous (The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, A Fist full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Hang ‘Em HighHigh Plains Drifter). His character became known to audiences as “the man with no name.” Clint Eastwood became the iconic lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and becomes justice incarnate.

The lone stranger who shows up out of nowhere and brings justice on the gang of bad guys is a popular archetype in our stories and film. We see it in our classic heroes like The Lone Ranger and our comic book heroes like The Dark Knight. Clint Eastwood would continue to embody that archetype, updated for the “modern West” in his Dirty Harry movies of the 1970s. Akira Kurosawa used the archetype in an entire genre of Japanese Samurai movies (e.g. Yojimbo) which were sometimes translated into different American settings like the prohibition era story in Last Man Standing.

Writers and filmmakers use “archetype” characters and stories because they resonate deeply within us. We connect with them, and we love them. There seems to be something deeply woven spiritually and psychologically in our creation that connects to The Great Story God is telling in and through history. The psychologist Jung spent much of his career studying it.

This morning on my chapter-a-day journey I waded into the ancient historical book of 2 Kings which, of course, follows 1 Kings. So, we’re picking up a story in the middle of the telling. Kind of like starting the Star Wars saga with The Empire Strikes Back.

What’s fascinating about the story we read in today’s chapter is that from ancient days we have the archetype lone stranger come to life. The nation of Israel had been torn in two. The northern kingdom of Israel and its long string of evil kings and queens (Israel’s Queen Jezebel became the archetype of the evil queen a’ la Snow White) had become a cesspool of corruption, debauchery, and idolatry. The nation had abandoned faith in the one God of Abraham and Moses. They had given themselves to all sorts of local gods with their rituals of sex and violence. The king of Israel sends his messengers to one of the priests of one of these local gods to have his fortune told.

Then on the dusty road in the wilderness, the king’s messengers meet a lone drifter; A wild-looking man, a man with no name, who wore a coat made out of camel hair and a big leather belt. Elijah speaks God’s truth and when the corrupt king sends his hoard of bad guys to get the lone Elijah, justice strikes in the form of lightning from heaven.

All good stories are a reflection of The Great Story. Elijah, the original High Plains Drifter.

This morning I’m thinking about the archetype of the lone stranger. I think it resonates within us all for different reasons. There are times on life’s journey that I feel alone and preyed upon by systems and powerful people with no recourse. I long for someone, anyone to show up and make the wrong right. I also think there are times in life when I feel like I’m standing alone against the crowd. I’m desperately trying to do the right thing, but the odds (and seemingly everyone else) are hopelessly stacked against me.

I’m thankful in the quiet this morning for Elijah and the archetype of the lone stranger. It’s the archetype of Jesus, the stranger from heaven; The lone savior who single-handedly took on my sin, and the sin of the world. Jesus, who tells me, even when the bad guys are surrounding me and the odds are stacked against me, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

And some days, if my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open, I realize that I have the opportunity to be “the lone stranger” for someone else. As Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.”

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

The Choice

The Choice (CaD Gen 50) Wayfarer

But Joseph said to [his brothers], “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Genesis 50:19-20 (NIV)

Over the years, Wendy and I have enjoyed hosting Godfather nights. We have a big Italian dinner with friends who have never seen the all-time classic movie, and we watch together over wine and cannoli. It’s so much fun.

[Spoiler Alert] In the final minutes of the film, the patriarch of the family dies, and his son, Michael, decides to make a move against all of the family’s enemies. This includes traitors within the family itself. As Michael stands in a Catholic church and becomes godfather to his sister’s baby at a baptism ceremony, the vengeance is mercilessly carried out. It all takes place as Michael is asked in the baptism ritual: “Do you renounce Satan?” and he responds, “I do renounce him.”

That scene came to mind this morning as I read the final chapter of Genesis. Jacob dies. He and his family are living in Egypt under Joseph’s protection. With the patriarch of the family dead, Joseph’s brothers realize that they are in a precarious position. Joseph has all the power of Pharaoh and Egypt at his beck and call. Should Joseph decide to “settle accounts” with his brothers for beating him with murderous intent and then selling him into slavery he could. All Joseph had to do was give the word and they would all be sleeping with the fishes.

The brothers send word to Joseph begging for his forgiveness. They bow down before him and offer to be his slaves.

Joseph’s response is classic:

“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph is foreshadowing the song of Moses after the defeat of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, along with the instruction in Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Rome:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” Joseph makes a willing decision to allow God’s intentions to overshadow the ill-intent of his brothers. Once again, his thoughts and actions mirror the behavioral instructions given to Jesus’ followers:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… 1 Peter 1:6-7

“…to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph’s response foreshadows two important spiritual realities.

First, he understands that all that has happened to him has resulted in saving the lives of his family. When God leads the tribes out of slavery in Egypt, He will say to them: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut 30:19) God is the God of Life. Joseph chooses not to go the Michael Corleone route down the path of death and vengeance. Joseph chooses life for his brothers.

Second, the promise given to Abraham was that through his descendants “all nations of the earth will be blessed.” Through Joseph’s trials, he was placed in a position to give life, not only to the Egyptians and his family but also to the other nations who came to Egypt to buy food in the famine. Had it not been for Joseph’s many trials, so many people from so many nations and peoples would have perished. Instead, they lived and were blessed through Abraham’s descendant.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself searching my heart to see if the seeds of vengeance are present. Stories like Joseph and The Godfather are so epic, yet the principles involved are intensely personal. Who has caused me harm? Who has made my life miserable? Who has wronged me, slandered me, or thrown me under the bus?

What seeds are taking root in my heart?

The seeds of resentment, hatred, and vengeance?

The seeds of grace, mercy, and forgiveness?

I’m reminded that the fruit of the former leads to death, while the fruit of the latter leads to life.

Spare the gun. Share the cannoli.

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

God in the “Hevel”

God in the "Hevel" (CaD Gen 45) Wayfarer

[Joseph said] “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Genesis 45:5, 8 (NIV)

Two weeks ago, among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, I was tasked with giving the final message in a twelve-weeks series on the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the main themes of the ancient book of wisdom is that everything is “meaningless,” a word the author uses 33 times in the book. The Hebrew word the ancient Sage used was “hevel” (or “hebel“, it can be transliterated either way) for which there’s not really a good English equivalent. It’s like smoke or vapor that you can see with your eyes but can’t physically grasp or hold onto. It evades full comprehension or understanding.

In an earlier message in the series, I used my blog post on Ecclesiastes 9 as a springboard to try and help communicate what I think the Sage was trying to get at by describing life as smokey hevel:

One couple in our midst prayed for a baby and gets pregnant. Another couple prayed for a baby and remains childless. “What the hevel?”

We watch so many young people grow to adulthood while a family tragically loses a child at a young age. “What the hevel?”

One person in our community is miraculously cured while another suffers and dies when no miracle occurs. “What the Hevel?”

I provide you this flashback on Ecclesiastes because the story of Joseph could be Exhibit A in understanding hevel. I even used it as an illustration in my message. The fact that I was reading through the story at the same time I was tasked with the message felt like a divine appointment. Joseph, the favorite son did nothing more than share with his family a dream he had. He’s beaten, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused of rape, unjustly imprisoned, and unfairly forgotten. He had every reason to sit in prison groaning “What the hevel?! Why is this happening to me? Life isn’t fair. It’s all smoke and mirrors. Why me, God? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? Why!?”

We find out in today’s chapter, which is the climax of the story. Joseph, having been raised to a leadership position in Egypt, and having miraculously been given prophetic foreknowledge of a seven-year famine, reveals himself to his brothers. The same brothers who sold him into slavery now come and bow down to him, begging him for food. Joseph reveals himself to them. It all comes together, and Joseph sees God’s hand in the hevelish circumstances that brought him to this moment. As Paul might have described it: All things worked together for good.

Just yesterday morning, over coffee, Wendy and I recounted some painful moments and relationships we’ve experienced over the years. With each one, we were able to look back and see how God used those moments and difficult stretches of the journey both in our lives and the lives of others involved.

I ended my message two weeks ago with an observation. Just a few chapters further into the story, in the book of Exodus, God will lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Each day, for 40 years, God will lead them by appearing in the form of a cloud. What is a cloud? It’s water vapor. It’s like smoke. You might say it’s hevel.

God is in the hevel.

My friends even gave me a coffee mug to remember the lesson. 😉

FWIW: Here’s a link to the message I referenced in today’s post. You can find it and an archive of other messages on my Messages page.

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

Both/And Family

Both/And Family (CaD Gen 42) Wayfarer

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the person who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.
Genesis 42:6 (NIV)

There was a period of time in my twenties and early thirties when I did a deep dive into my family history. I investigated both my father’s and mother’s family lines. I talked to my parents, grandparents, great aunts, and great uncles. I asked many questions about relatives I knew nothing about. I heard many fascinating stories, and I learned a great deal. I was led to the conclusion that family is messy. My family, like almost every family, always put our good foot forward for public perception. In both my paternal and maternal families going back several generations, I found plenty of skeletons hidden in the closets.

Divorce
Broken relationships and members refusing to speak to one another
Deceit
Suicide (more than one)
Depression
Alcoholics (more than one)
Illegitimate children
Children sold into servitude
Secret marriages
Sexual harassment
Attempted sexual assault
Public scandal
Lawsuits
Court hearings
Prison sentences…

I also found multiple examples of…

Deep love
Intense devotion
Genuine faith
Sacrificial generosity
Honorable character
Faithfulness to duty
Unquenchable hope
Inner strength

One of the lessons my family history adventure taught me is that family is not either/or “good” or “bad,” but rather it is both/and good things and bad things. Yes, I am a product of a loving family. Yes, my family has failings and dysfunctions like every other family system. I endeavor to do my best to be a healthy cog in my family system. I’d like to think I’ve succeeded in some ways. I must confess I’ve tragically failed in others.

I thought about these things as I read today’s chapter. The dramatic story of Joseph is drawing to its climax. Everything begins to “work together” for Joseph. Israel and his sons are starving in Caanan because of the severe famine that was predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream. The same brothers who almost killed Joseph and sold him into slavery because Joseph told them of a dream in which they bowed down to him, now arrive in Egypt to buy food and they bow down to him. The dream is fulfilled just as Joseph described thirteen years earlier.

I thought it fascinating that Israel would not allow Benjamin to travel with the brothers. With Joseph presumed dead, Benjamin was the only son that Israel had left who was born of Rachel, his first love. It would seem that when Israel thought Joseph was dead, he replaced his “favorite” with the only other son of Rachel in the tribe. Joseph, longing to see Benjamin, uses his brother’s ignorance of his true identity to force them to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Israel balks. Having lost Joseph, he fears that the same will happen to Benjamin.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about the very human family drama of Israel and his many sons, including the lost son Joseph. Yes, it’s a tragic story fraught with flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. And, it’s also a beautiful story of redemption, salvation, and God weaving these flawed human beings into a larger story, the Great Story, of God’s redemption of all things.

This gives me hope for my own family story which, when I really dug in to look at it objectively, I found to have its own flawed characters, tragic choices, and dreadful circumstances. Along my journey, I’ve discovered that God has redemptive purposes for me/us as well. On this eve of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for that.

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

Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters (CaD Gen 30) Wayfarer

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.” She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”
Genesis 30:22-24 (NIV)

One of the things Wendy and I have enjoyed doing the past year or so is to watch some of the epic film series in order. This summer we watched all eleven movies of the Star Wars canon in the chronological order of the story arc. We’ve begun doing this with the Marvel Universe.

One of the things that she and I have discussed about the Harry Potter films, in particular, is that they were written and produced with a fatal flaw. None of the films’ writers and directors knew the entire story until the final installment because they were produced as the story was still being told. There was, therefore, important story elements in the earlier books that were important threads to the larger story, but those telling the particular episode of the epic didn’t know this or couldn’t see it.

Along my journey, I’ve observed a common flaw with those who read and study the Great Story. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the immediate episode I’m reading that I lose sight that this episode is a thread in the larger theme that the Author of Life is telling.

Today’s chapter contains two stories that can be, quite frankly, head-scratchers. Both episodes of Jacob’s story flashback to earlier events and they foreshadow important elements of the story to come.

The first episode is a great birthing contest between sisters Leah and Rachel, both wives of Jacob. The second is Jacob’s deceptive scheme to increase his herds at his uncle’s expense.

In the culture of that day, providing your husband with a male heir was of utmost importance. In fact, a wife who did not produce a son by a prescribed period of time could nullify the marriage. In many cases, a wife lived with her father’s house until she did produce a male heir. The rivalry between sisters fuels their desire to win favor by producing sons for Jacob. Rachel’s barrenness and her demand that Jacob bear sons by her servant are flashbacks to Grandma Sarah who did the same thing. Likewise, Jacob’s shrewd deceit of his Uncle Laban in increasing his flocks hearkens back to the theme of deceit that pervades Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s life.

The story also foreshadows important elements in the story to come. Of all the sons born to Jacob, two are going to figure prominently in the rest of Genesis and in the history of the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah’s son, Judah will lead the tribe from which King David and the future Messiah will come. Rachel’s firstborn, Joseph, will live a life of exile and redemption, ultimately saving the entire family and becoming the conduit through which the next major chapter of the Great Story will be told.

The forest that is often lost in the trees of this story is the covenant God gave Abraham to expand his descendants and bless all the nations of the earth. The blessing that Jacob is part of. The birthing contest, with all of its human flaws, conflict, and intrigue, is going to exponentially increase Abraham’s descendants. The many sons of Jacob will become the twelve tribes of Israel.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself again contemplating the fact that the Great Story is being told through flawed, sinful human beings. I can look at each character from Abraham to Rachel and find character flaws, sins, and mistakes. Yet, with the exception of Jesus, that’s true of every human character in the Great Story.

That’s true of me.

Jacob, Rachel, and Leah are part of the larger story of Abraham’s covenant. Abraham’s covenant is part of the larger story of God redeeming fallen humanity. With no one to use but sinful human beings, God weaves the storyline through human failings, ultimately redeeming them in the larger work of ultimate redemption which is the meta-theme of the Great Story itself.

And, in the quiet this morning, I take comfort in that. In this way, I am Jacob. I am Rachel. I am Rebekah and Laban. Jesus placed His ministry into the hands of twelve flawed human beings which they passed on to other flawed human beings, and it has passed from flawed human being to flawed human being until it ultimately reached me.

I am a flawed human, but that does not disqualify me from playing my role in this penultimate drama. It does not cancel me in God’s eyes. It merely makes me part of the meta-theme of redemption, just like every other human in the Great Story.

I recently heard that the great actor, Alan Rickman, was considering quitting the role of Severus Snape in the series of Harry Potter films because Snape seemed like a one-dimensional, irredeemably bad character. J.K. Rowling pulled him aside to explain the powerful, redemptive role that Snape plays in the epic, which does not become fully clear until the end. Gratefully, he stuck with the role.

Sometimes, the seemingly irredeemable characters are essential to the ultimate story of redemption.

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

The “Straight Man”

The "Straight Man" (CaD Gen 26) Wayfarer

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.
Genesis 26:3 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines, one of the local television stations showed a movie every weekday afternoon. There would be a fifteen-minute news segment at noon, followed by the Floppy Show which would show two Looney Tunes cartoons, followed by a movie. I rarely watched the movies because they didn’t appeal to me, but every once in a while they would show a Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movie and it was like hitting the jackpot.

For those who are unaware, Jerry Lews and Dean Martin were a blockbuster comedy duo back in the fifties during the early days of Las Vegas and the Rat Pack. Jerry Lewis was the geeky, manic, physical comedian and Dean Martin was the gorgeous hunk who could croon and make the ladies swoon. Between 1949 and 1956 they made sixteen successful movies together. Together with their Vegas act, they were the biggest thing in show business for about ten years. Then the dynamic duo suddenly split forever.

One of the reasons for the split was that Dean Martin got tired of playing the “straight man” to Jerry’s kinetic comedic talent and energy. Every great story has characters who could be labeled the “straight person.” They hold the story together, they are the conduit through which the story flows, but they aren’t the star and don’t get the good bits. Show business is full of actors who have successfully appeared in countless films and television shows. You know the faces but you don’t know the names.

This came to mind this morning as I mulled over the person of Isaac. I noticed in yesterday’s chapter that while Abraham’s story took 13 chapters, and Isaac didn’t show up until the ninth chapter. Isaac only has a couple of chapters as the patriarch before he’s old and weak in the eyes. From the perspective of story-telling, Issac is a “straight man.” He almost gets sacrificed by his dad. He gets married. He fathers twins. He wanders around Canaan digging wells. Suddenly he’s old and the story has completely shifted to his sons.

This resonates with me because as an Enneagram Four, my core motivation is to feel a special sense of purpose and significance. That lends itself to desiring the starring roles, and I confess to enjoying those opportunities. It also lends itself to a core pain in which any purpose or significance is “never enough.” Along my life journey, however, I’ve struggled to embrace the truth about human systems. Every one has a role to play to make the system healthy and successful. There are nine Enneagram Types and we need everything that every Type brings to the table of life. Followers of Jesus are considered “the body of Christ” and Paul makes it clear that every member of the body is necessary whether you’re a vital organ or a nail on the little toe.

Isaac’s part in the Great Story is minor compared to his father and his son. He’s a straight man. He’s the conduit through which the story flows from Abraham to Jacob. But to this day, God is regularly named “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Isaac nailed his part in the greatest story ever told.

So, in the quiet this morning, I find myself with what is a much-needed reminder given the core motivations of my heart. “There are no small parts,” they say, “only small actors.” It’s true. Some of my favorite roles have been the smallest of roles. Nevertheless, I confess that it’s good for me to be reminded of this on a regular basis.

By the way, the end of today’s chapter states that Esau married two Hittite women who “were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Ironically, another reason for the split between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis is that their wives didn’t get along.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

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

Namaste God

Namaste God (CaD Gen 16) Wayfarer

[Hagar] gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Genesis 16:13 (NIV)

Our dear friend has a yoga studio in town. Wendy has actively been assisting our friend with her business. And so, I even attend a class now and then. Given the increased stiffening of the muscles and joints one experiences with age, I really should go more often. It is really good for my body.

One of the traditions of yoga is that of ending a class with the word “namaste.” The literal translation is “I bow to you” and it is a traditional, humble salutation used in greeting and parting. Many people speak of the word’s broader definition as “I see you,” or “The divine in me sees the divine in you” and I find the concept quite lovely.

Today’s chapter is downright Shakespearean when bookended with yesterday’s chapter. Yesterday’s chapter was about Abram’s simple belief of God’s promises being “credited to him as righteousness.” Of course, the promise God has made Abram from the very beginning was that His descendants would be as numerous as stars in the sky and the sand on the beach. Today’s chapter begins with the harsh reality of his wife Sara being old and childless. Sara, who is tired of waiting, tired of believing, and tired of trusting, takes matters into her own hands. She tells Abram to do what was very common in the culture of that day. She tells her husband to sleep with her servant, Hagar, and have a child by her so that he would have an heir. Abram goes along with it.

Sara and Abram’s act intersect with me and my own story on multiple levels. Along my journey I have had my own experiences with God’s promises given and the long-suffering required to see the promise fulfilled. The questions of “How long do I wait?” and “Should I be doing something to make this thing happen?” are very real. Abram and Sara’s impatience and exasperation resonate deeply with me.

And then, of course, there is the journey of infertility that Wendy and I walked together for many years (though much shorter than Abram and Sara). There are emotions, questions, and struggles that one experiences on the journey of infertility (for both a woman and a man) that are unlike anything else I’ve experienced in life. I’ve observed that those who have not experienced it are largely unaware of the intensity of the ordeal, and most are reluctant to even engage in an empathetic conversation about it. I get Sara and Abram’s desperation, and their desire to make this thing happen once and for all.

Then there is Hagar, who is the oft ignored victim of this desperate act. In all my years studying the Great Story, I regularly find Hagar to be regarded with either ignorance (e.g. she’s not considered at all) or subtle contempt (e.g. she’s viewed contemptuously as “the other woman”). In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t ignore her. Hagar was a slave. She had no choice in the matter. She suffered a gross injustice that was compounded by Sara’s antipathy and mistreatment, along with Abram’s indifference (e.g. “Do with her whatever you think best.”). Hagar flees the abusive situation. She’s homeless, penniless, defenseless, directionless, and pregnant.

Then God shows up.

God blesses Hagar. He gives Hagar a carbon-copy promise that He gave to Abram and Sara: “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” God comforts Hagar in her misery. God directs Hagar to return to Sara because sometimes in the Great Story one must face injustice rather than flee it in order for the larger Story to unfold.

Then Hagar says something amazing: “You are the God who sees me. I have seen the One who sees me.”

As I read these words this morning my soul whispered “Namaste.”

In the quiet this morning, I stand humbled and amazed at the lengths to which God regarded Hagar and the injustice done to her. God appears to this poor, pregnant slave girl in a way that He rarely appears to anyone. It echoes of Jesus’ regard for a poor, publicly shamed and naked woman caught in the act of adultery, and His regard for a half-breed, divorced and segregated Samaritan woman at the well.

“I see you.”

The God who sees Abram and Sara in the intense struggles of their infertility journey. The God who sees Hagar in the suffering of the injustices done to her. The God who sees me in both my joys and my long-sufferings. God sees me. Do I, like Hagar, see the God who sees me, or, like Sara and Abram, am I blinded by my doubts, fears, and frustrations?

And the Shakespearean story is about to unfold.

Two sons by different women.

Two numerous peoples, the countless descendants of Hagar and Sara.

Arabs and Hebrews.

Both peoples honoring Abraham as their father.

Read the headlines. The story continues to unfold to this day.

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

Judicial Realizations

Judicial Realizations (CaD Ps 139) Wayfarer

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Yesterday, I spent some time with a friend who is a bit further down life’s road than I am. He sees the finish line of his vocational journey fast approaching. The fact that his days are numbered and there are fewer days ahead than behind is not lost on him. We talked honestly.

“I just want to finish well,” he said to me.

We then quickly recounted the names of those we know who did not finished life well. It was a sobering thought.

If you ask me to share my individual, unvarnished story with you, I’m going to share things that are pretty unseemly. Along my life journey I have been guilty of both pretty sins and ugly sins. For about the first 15-20 years of my 40 years as a Jesus follower, I did my best to hide these things under a well-polished veneer of goodness. Eventually, things caught up with me. As I hit bottom and could no longer keep up appearances, I had a fellow believer and therapist tell me, “I’ve been watching the slow deconstruction of the image of Tom.”

I’ve learned along this journey that sometimes old things must be razed before new, fruitful things can begin growing.

The 23rd Psalm undoubtedly tops the Billboard Chart for all-time favorite ancient Hebrew songs. Today’s chapter, Psalm 139, is definitely makes the Top Ten. It might even be number two. If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to do so. The liner notes ascribe it to David, which adds an intriguing layer of meaning to the lyrics.

It’s easy to read Psalm 139 in the mind frame of the devotional and theological. But in the context of David’s day, the lyrics are judicial. Christian theology holds that God is omnipresent, meaning that God is present in all places at all times. While the lyrics of David’s song support this idea, the ancients of David’s world had no such notion. Rather, they considered that both gods and kings had access to all places and all knowledge. Therefore, no one could run and hide from justice. No matter how high, low, near, or far I try to hide, the Divine Judge has full access, even to see and know the person I am beneath the well-polished veneer of goodness.

Much like the 51st Psalm, David’s song is an honest and intimate confession. David is laying open his life, his heart, and his soul before God, who is the Divine Judge. In doing so, David is exposing and owning his own sins, both pretty and ugly. A man of violence and bloodshed, an adulterer, a murderer, a failed father, a failed husband, and a less-than-perfect king, David stands before God knowing that God doesn’t need the Freedom of Information Act to see it all. David asks God to search his very heart, which ironically is the thing that led God to choose David in the first place.

Which leads me back to my story, and my life, which is every bit as polluted with sins both pretty and ugly. There came a point in my journey that I had my own Psalm 139 moment. I could continue running, hiding, and polishing, but that never got me anywhere healthy. So, I owned my own shit. I processed my feelings, my failings, and my indulgent human appetites. Ironically, it was at that point in my journey that a number of really good things began to spiritually sprout within me.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the fact that I’m writing these words on Good Friday. As I remember that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for me, so that in him I might become the righteousness of God,” I am reminded that it’s not about the things that I have done, but the thing that Christ did for me. The more honest I am about the things I have done, the more potent the thing that Christ did for me becomes. As Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, it is that kindness of Christ that leads me to genuine repentance, not judgement, condemnation, nor religious rigor.

This morning, I find myself thinking that if I want to finish well then I have to keep this spiritual truth before me this day, each day, until I reach the journey’s end.

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

“God is Grape”

"God is Grape" (CaD Ps 102) Wayfarer

Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord
Psalm 102:18 (NIV)

One of the silver linings of our family’s COVID plague has been the extended amount of time we’ve had with our grandson. This includes both moments of three-year-old hilarity and DEFCON FIVE toddler tantrums.

One of the more endearing developments has been Milo’s insistence on praying for our meal every night. Some nights he insists that we hold hands and pray two or three random times during the meal as he prays:

“God is grape. God is good. And we thank Him for the food.”

The sweetness melts this grandparent’s heart, of course. But for me it’s also witnessing the innocent openness and sensitivity of Spirit in the wee one.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 102, is another ancient Hebrew song lyric that was written during a time of intense illness. In fact, the songwriter was not sure that he was going to make it. The song begins with the writer calling out to God to hear and quickly respond, then he pours out the angst-filled description of his medical and emotional symptoms.

As the song proceeds, the tone of the lyric makes an abrupt switch. The writer stops focusing on his momentary circumstance and, instead, focuses on God’s eternal nature and the perpetuity of life. It’s as though the writer is saying “Even if this is it for me, and my number is up, life will go on. That which is eternal perseveres. The universe continues to expand. The next generation will emerge, then the next, and then the next.”

One of the oft-forgotten themes of the Great Story is that of descendence.

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28
“God said to Noah and his sons with him: ‘I now establish my covenant with you and your descendants.’”
Genesis 9:8-9
To Abram: “I will make you into a great nation.”
Genesis 12:2
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.
Deuteronomy 11:18-21 (NIV)

The Great Story is a story because it continues, it goes on even when my role is over and I make my final exit. Even in the most tragic and bleak dystopian imaginings, the premise is that Life endures and the story continues.

In the quiet this morning I feel the lingering effects of the virus on my body and realize that at this point in this life journey I don’t bounce back the way I once did. I listen to the unbridled energy of my grandson whose body felt none of the viral effects and who will live his earthly journey without remembering these weeks shut-in with Papa and Yaya.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, for him or for me. No matter the narrative of my story, life will continue in his story. Life gets handed off, a little bit each day, as we sit around the dinner table, holding hands and listening to that little voice say “God is grape.”