Tag Archives: System

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

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

Bad Blood

Bad Blood (CaD Ob 1) Wayfarer

Jacob will be a fire
    and Joseph a flame;
Esau will be stubble,
    and they will set him on fire and destroy him.
There will be no survivors
    from Esau.”
The Lord has spoken.

Obadiah 1:18 (NIV)

Some of the more fascinating discoveries in the excavation of my family history have been the bad blood that exists between individuals and family units. In some cases, entire family groups have had little or no relationship with one another for generations and have no idea that the distance is rooted in bad blood from generations before.

I found bad blood in both my paternal and maternal families. I discovered bad blood rising from a host of reasons including, but not limited to, unwanted pregnancies, marriages, re-marriages, inheritance, family business, addiction, and deception. Most commonly, bad blood occurred between siblings, but bad blood between parents and children was also present.

Today’s chapter is the prophecy of Obadiah who wrote a short prophetic poem against the nation of Edom at the time Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire were marching on Jerusalem around 600 B.C. The Edomites, who had considered joining the local defense against the Babylonian Empire, ended up siding with Babylon.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the elder twin brother of Jacob. If you were on our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis last year, you might recall the bad blood between them. Bad blood arose between brothers because of the favoritism demonstrated by both parents. Dad favored Esau. Mom favored Jacob. This led to Jacob’s deceptive stealing of Esau’s blessing and inheritance then fleeing into exile for years. All of this took place around 2000 B.C.

I did the math this morning. The bad blood Obadiah is writing about in today’s chapter between the people of Israel and the people of Edom began with a conflict between brothers 1400 years before Obadiah picked up his papyrus and stylus.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to thinking about family. I know that a lot of people could give a rat’s rear-end about the past. I get it. I have always had a bent toward the past and a love of history. It was fascinating to learn that this is part of being an Enneagram Type Four. I have personally found it worthwhile in a couple of different respects.

First, I have gotten to correspond with and to know members of my family I would otherwise have never known. Their stories have added new layers of understanding of the family systems from which I spring. It helps me understand myself, my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents and their stories in a greater context, along with a ton more grace. There’s so much in life we don’t control, including the family systems that produced us.

Second, is the old adage that “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I have tried very hard along my life journey to avoid the traps that lead to the kind of bad blood which can affect individuals and family groups. I can’t help but recall Paul’s words to Jesus’ followers in Rome:  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Along my journey, I’ve discovered that living at peace requires me to care more about what matters than what doesn’t. That has meant valuing people over politics (or religion, or morality codes, etc.), choosing relationships over being right, and letting go of things of temporal value to perpetuate love that is priceless. This sometimes (often?) requires letting go of the past and choosing forgiveness so that future generations don’t systemically perpetuate bad blood they personally had nothing to do with simply because that bad blood was never dealt with and permanently infected the family system.

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

“Effed Up Family”

"Effed Up Family" (CaD Gen 48) Wayfarer

Joseph said to [Israel], “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations.”

Genesis 48:18-19 (NIV)

Wendy and I became hooked on Yellowstone in its first season. It’s now in its fourth season. Sunday night has become a weekly watch party with our friends. Wendy and I have often described Yellowstone to family and friends as “The Godfather meets modern day Montana.”

Kevin Costner plays John Dutton, the widowed patriarch of a family who has owned a million-acre ranch of the most beautiful and desirable land in Montana for over a century. Everyone wants the land and they will do literally anything to wrench it from Dutton’s control. Dutton will do literally anything to prevent that from happening. Let’s just say, if he asks one of the ranch hands to drive you “to the train station” you’ve just been given a one-way ticket to the end-of-the-line. Dutton finds himself forced to manipulate and coerce his own adult children to “protect” the family and the ranch. Each of his children is, respectfully and understandably, his or her own form of messed up.

Our daughter and her husband watch Yellowstone every week along with another show about a wealthy, dysfunctional family empire. They’ve dubbed the evening “Effed up family night.”

I couldn’t help but think of it as I read today’s chapter. The book of Genesis is known by many as simply the story of creation and Noah’s ark. The truth is that about 80 percent of Genesis is the story of one man, Abraham, being given a promise that his descendants will become a great nation. It then tells how Abraham builds a wealthy nomadic herding operation and has a son, who expands the family and the family business. By the third generation, they grow to become a wealthy clan that other peoples fear as they wander the land. In the fourth generation, the clan continues to grow into the making of twelve tribes, who will become a people before the book of Exodus in which God makes them into a nation.

I’ve often said that all good stories are a reflection of the Great Story. Families growing into tribes, people, and empires is a common theme in some of the epic stories we love, as is the struggle of flawed human family systems to protect and perpetuate the family legacy. The story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph is the seminal source material.

In today’s chapter, two recurring themes are present. First is the ancient patriarch on his death bed blessing his children. It’s the conduit through which power and privilege are passed down to the subsequent generation. The second recurring theme is the bucking of the embedded cultural tradition of the day in which the firstborn son inherits everything. Israel, the second-born son of Isaac who stole the birthright and deceived his father into receiving the blessing, is now the dying Patriarch. His first move is to call Joseph to him. Joseph was at one time his youngest son and his favorite. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, who was the younger sister, whom Israel loved. Two important things happen.

First, Israel raises Joseph’s sons, his grandsons, to the status of sons and heirs of their grandfather. Joseph’s sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, will become the head of their own tribes next to their uncles. In doing this, Joseph’s family is receiving a double-portion of Israel’s overall blessing.

Second, Israel willfully crosses his arms when blessing Manasseh and Ephraim. He places his right hand (the hand of favor) on the younger son’s head. He places his left hand (often the metaphor of disfavor or secondary favor in that culture) on the firstborn son’s head. Joseph is ticked-off at this and tries to reverse it. The tradition of honoring the firstborn son runs deep in family systems to this day. Israel refuses. Like Isaac, like Jacob/Israel, and like Joseph himself, the younger brother Ephraim will be the greater. Hundreds of years later, when the nation of Israel splits into two after Solomon’s reign, the southern kingdom will be called Judah (the fourth-born son who emerges as the leader of the tribes) and the northern kingdom will be often referred to as Ephraim. Prophecy fulfilled.

Along my earthly journey, I’ve observed that one’s place and position within the family system can often have a tremendous impact on how one sees and perceives themselves, their self-worth, and their place in this world. One of the things that Jesus taught, one of the spiritual realities He put into place, was that anyone who follows Him will be lifted into the potion of child of God, heir of God, and co-heir with Christ Jesus Himself. It’s good news for everyone who grew up with real family stories that would fit right in with “Effed up family night.”

While he was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers showed up. They were outside trying to get a message to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and brothers are out here, wanting to speak with you.”
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?” He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples. “Look closely. These are my mother and brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 12:46-48 (MSG)

…in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
Galatians 3:26 (NIV)

You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance. Galatians 4:6-7 (MSG)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!
Romans 8:15-16 (MSG)

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

Favoritism

Favoritism (CaD Gen 37) Wayfarer

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.
Genesis 37:3 (NIV)

Years ago I was giving a message and I pointed out that one of the recurring themes of the Great Story is the fact that God continually uses the youngest, the weakest, and the least to be His chosen vessel. We’ve already seen it in all three generations of Abraham’s family. We’ll see the theme again in the likes of David, Solomon, Samuel, Mary, and Jesus’ disciples, After the message, I was asked by a listener if I believed that God plays “favorites,” and that he believed that was exactly what I was saying. It was a question that required far more conversation than the few seconds we had to exchange words. It felt as if my words might have picked at a relational scab.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed many ways that favoritism wreaks havoc on family systems and the individuals within. Favoritism is not only insidious when it’s directly and blatantly practiced by a parent, but I’ve seen it be just as insidious when it is unjustly perceived and projected onto a parent by a child. The larger and more complex the family system (e.g. mix in step-parents and step-siblings), the greater the likelihood for favoritism, or perceived favoritism, germinate and take root.

Jacob (aka Israel) had a family system in which favoritism had already taken root and born fruit. It has been present in three generations of his family. Abraham and Sarah favored Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. I’ve observed that once favoritism is present in a family system, it easily passes down to subsequent generations.

We’re told directly in today’s chapter that Jacob favored Joseph because he was “born to him in old age,” but there’s more to it than that. Jacob loved Rachel and was deceived into marrying Leah as well. I believe that the fact Joseph was the first child born to Rachel added to the mix of Jacob’s favoritism cocktail.

The fascinating thing about it is, God is using Jacob’s favoritism for His own purposes. Joseph’s dreams are a foreshadowing of the very thing God is going to do through Joseph in order to ultimately save his father and brothers.

Does that mean that God plays favorites? My answer to that is no, not in the way we as humans perceive it and experience it. I believe that it’s easy to project onto our Heavenly Father the heart and soul wounds of favoritism we may have experienced in our own family systems. God continued the theme of using the youngest, weakest, and least throughout the Great Story in order to remind me of the truth that the Kingdom of God does not operate like the Kingdoms (and broken families) of this world, in which power, wealth, ability, popularity, influence, status, and fame are highly favored.

Again and again, God reminds me that His Kingdom works differently:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
Matthew 11:25

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:1-3

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

But in fact God has placed the [members] in [God’s family], every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one [family member], where would the [family] be? As it is, there are many [family members], but one [family].

The [oldest] cannot say to the [youngest], “I don’t need you!” And the [youngest] cannot say to [another sibling], “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those [members of the family] that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the [members of the family] that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the [members of the family] that [have special needs] are treated with special [treatment], while our presentable [members of the family] need no special treatment. But God has put the [family] together, giving greater honor to the [family members] that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the [family], but that its [members] should have equal concern for each other.

A paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12:18-26

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that I have a role to play in God’s Kingdom that is not better or worse than any other. My gifts and callings are an indispensable part of the whole in God’s Kingdom. If I consider them better or worse, more or less favorable than others, then I am mistaking human ways with God’s ways.

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

Chip off the Ol’ Block

Chip Off the Ol' Block (CaD Gen 29) Wayfarer

When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Genesis 29:25 (NIV)

Lately, I’ve been posting old family photos on social media in a series I’ve dubbed “From the Shoebox.” I have received a number of comments telling me how much I look like my father. It’s become more and more common the older I get, and I’m fine with being a chip off the ol’ block.

In yesterday’s post, I began the discussion of the way that very different family systems can create chaos when they are merged in marriage. I want to take that conversation another step deeper today because of the events in today’s chapter.

Jacob is sent to live in exile because he, and his mother, conspired to deceive Jacob’s father into giving Jacob “the blessing” as heir apparent to the family and its fortunes instead of Jacob’s twin brother to whom it rightfully belonged. Believing that Esau would kill Jacob out of vengeance, he is sent to live with his mother’s family, and it’s important to remember that it is mother’s family with whom he is living.

Jacob (whose name means “deceiver”) was a mama’s boy from the beginning. She was the parent who had the greatest influence on him. It was his mother who prompted the conspiracy to steal Esau’s blessing and ensure that Jacob would run the family and inherit the family fortunes.

Upon arriving at his uncle Laban’s settlement, there are two important things that happen. The first is subtle. The second is blatant. Uncle Laban initially greets Jacob by saying “You are my flesh and blood.” Ancient cultures of that area would use greetings such as this as a way of saying “you are being brought into the family” and will be treated as a family member. But then, a few verses later, Laban strikes a contractual deal with Jacob to work for seven years as the bride price for his daughter, Rachel. The gracious “you’re family” switches to “you’re a contract worker.” It’s a bait-and-switch that Jacob, in his infatuation with Rachel, does not question.

Seven years later, the wedding night arrives. The family feasts, but instead of sending Rachel into Jacob’s tent as agreed, he sends her older sister, Leah. We’re not told how it was that Jacob did not notice, but he wakes up to a big surprise. Laban tells Jacob that it’s “custom” to marry off the older sister first and he offers Rachel in exchange for another seven years of labor.

Rebekah sends Jacob into his father’s tent and pretended to be Esau.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, sends Leah into Jacob’s tent pretending to be Rachel.

The “deceiver” is deceived.

What comes around, goes around.

Guess where your mother learned it, Jacob?

Welcome to the family.

Sometimes being “a chip off the ol’ block” has less to do with looks and more to do with how we think, behave, act, and react within a family system. We spend years unconsciously playing a role within one family system and learning how to relate and interact within the family system. Suddenly we find ourselves living in another family system. We don’t wipe the slate clean and get a do-over. We bring all the mess of one system and merge it with a completely different one.

Merging flesh is quite easy. It’s quite another thing to merge souls, habits, traditions, and systemic thinking that I’m often unaware I’m even thinking. I’ve learned that successfully making that work requires two individuals willing to be introspective, honest, gracious, forgiving, patient, and persevering.

Thank you, Wendy.

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

Me and Messy Family

Me and Messy Family (CaD Gen 28) Wayfarer

Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Genesis 28:8-9 (NIV)
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Genesis 28:20-22 (NIV)

I’ve written a couple of posts recently in which I touched on the fact that the Bible really doesn’t specify any type of ritual or tradition around marriage. In fact, the closest it gets is right in the second chapter of the Great Story. A man leaves his father and mother, is united with his wife and two become one.

As I’ve meditated on this over the years, I’ve come to observe that the focus is almost always on the two becoming one. But rarely do we think about or discuss the pre-requisite of leaving the parents, which happens for both spouses even though only the male is specified in the text.

In today’s chapter, we find the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, on divergent paths. Esau is already married to two Hittite women who have brought chaos and conflict within the family system. Having been cheated out of his birthright and blessing by his twin brother and mother, Esau is understandably bitter. Realizing how much his parents hate his wives, Esau decides to double-down and marry two more Hittite women and bring even more disruption into the family system.

Jacob, on the other hand, goes into exile with his mother’s family in order to find a wife from within the tribe. While on his way, Isaac meets God in a dream, receives the blessing God gave his grandfather and father, and chooses in. He makes a vow to follow and worship God and embraces Abraham’s covenant.

Welcome to the mess.

There was a specific stage of my own life journey when I thought long and hard about what it meant to be my own person, establish my own house, and separate from the family system of my childhood. I made a couple of key discoveries during this stage of my life:

It’s hard not to play the role one has developed as part of a family system. I leave home. I do my own thing. I follow my own path. Then I go to my parents for the holidays and I find myself thinking, acting, and behaving within the family system as I always have since I was a kid. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but neither is it necessarily healthy. I discovered that it was important for me to see it and work through it myself.

Parents are part of the entire equation. Both Isaac and Rebekah played a role in the conflict between the brothers. Parents can help or hinder their children’s “leaving” and the establishment of their own lives, homes, and family systems. The past decade has been crucial for both Taylor and Madison as they are in their own stages of establishing their lives. It’s not always easy to let go. It’s hard to watch them stake their own claims and feel the separation that naturally happens when one becomes independent of the system I established and controlled for so long. I am constantly having to have talks with God, myself, and Wendy about how best to bless our children by repeatedly choosing to let them go.

While Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Esau’s four foreign wives live in the messy consequences of Isaac and Rebekah’s own meddling, I have a feeling that twenty years of exile from that family system will be good for Isaac. He needs time and distance to establish his own relationship with the God of his forefathers, to become a husband, to become a father, and to make his own way.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about this life journey. Once I was a child learning what it meant to leave home, to be one with another, to be a father, to establish my own family system. Now I’m a parent learning to let go of daughters who are one with another and establishing their own family systems. It’s all part of the journey with its mess, mistakes, chaos, crazy, blessing, joy, laughter, and beauty.

I just want to do each stage well, and I’ve learned that I give myself some grace because I’m always a work in progress. I want to progress. I want to bring more sanity than insanity to the lives of our children and grandchildren. I want to make relational choices that will allow for more health than dysfunction. I desire that I can be more gracious and less demanding. I pray that I can increasingly trust God with the lives of my adult children so as to avoid meddling in their lives out of my personal fears and mistrust.

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

“Ins” and “outs”

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
Mark 9:38 (NIV)

Over the past five years, I’ve quietly watched as divergent lines of political, social, and religious thought have become more and more entrenched behind walls of prejudice and across what appears to be a “no man’s land” dictated by either and/or both sides of the great divide. It grieves me to observe, and to experience, the lack of grace, tolerance, love, and simple human kindness for other human beings.

Like every other human being, my life journey has been dotted with observing and experiencing the “ins” and “outs” of social groups. Favorites emerge in family systems. Sides are chosen on the playground. The new kid on the block must navigate how to earn acceptance from the neighborhood gang who’ve known each other their whole lives. Social groups with unspoken rules of “in” and “out” emerge out of the shared identities of being jocks, nerds, band geeks, and stoners. Sororities and Fraternities create shared loyalty through their pledging, hazing, and strict hierarchies. Corporations have well insulated “C-Suites” where executives are sequestered in corner offices with private bathrooms. Churches manage who’s in and out with membership cards, doctrinal litmus tests, and unspoken religious rules about dress, speech, morality, and acceptable political stances.

In today’s chapter, there’s an interesting exchange that, in my experience, doesn’t get much air time. In my forty years of following Jesus and regularly attending the gatherings of various groups of fellow followers, I have never heard one sermon, lecture, or lesson on this exchange.

It comes from the mouth of John who bears the moniker, “the one whom Jesus loved,” and one of the three who comprised what’s known as “Jesus’ inner-circle.” It was that “inner circle” (James, John, and Peter) whom Jesus took to witness His transfiguration in today’s chapter. I have to wonder how that went over with the other nine. I think I can guess.

Jesus and His “twelve” are together in someone’s home, away from the crowds. Jesus is holding a little child in His arms, telling his disciples that in the economy of God’s Kingdom the “greatest” are those who are humble and willing to welcome and serve “the least” of society with open and embracing arms.

John then looks at Jesus (who is still holding the child as a living word picture of this lesson about humility, love, openness, and inclusion), and says, “Teacher, we saw some guy we didn’t know today performing an exorcism in your name and we told him to stop, because he’s not one of us!”

He doesn’t belong “in” our group.

You didn’t choose him, like you chose us.

He hasn’t left everything and followed you like we have.

We don’t know where he is from or what he truly believes.

Be proud of us, Jesus, we’re keeping “out” those who don’t belong “in” your entourage!

Jesus, still holding the child in His arms, rebukes John for what he’s said and done. John can’t see the disconnect. Jesus then tears down the wall of John’s “in” group distinctions: “Whoever is not against us, is for us.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating all of the walls of distinction that have been erected by various social groups on every side of every issue. And this is where my heart lands as I consider Jesus’ words in today’s chapter, and picture Him holding a little child in His arms:

First:

When I go downstairs this morning to have coffee with Wendy and peruse the news of the day…
I am only going to see what their cameras want me to see.
I am only going to hear what their editors want me to hear.
I am only going to read, watch, and listen to the sources I choose
who, let’s face it, I choose because it makes me comfortable in.my.own.groups.

Second:

What I will see, hear, and read is an infinitesimal and skewed vision of the daily lives, experiences, conversations, and interactions that I and billions of other human beings will have on this planet on this day.

Third:

I can’t control what others may think of me or what they perceive me to be. People may very well choose to hate me and be against me in any way one chooses. Nevertheless, no one is going to get me to hate them any more than they could get Jesus to hate them.

As a follower of Jesus, that’s my calling, my mission, and my heart’s desire.

Forgive? Yes. Hate? No.

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

“Just the Way it Works”

"Just the Way it Works" (CaD Ps 94) Wayfarer

They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.

When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy.

Psalm 94:6, 19 (NIV)

While a college student, I took a semester off of classes and worked as an abstractor. My job was to take the abstract of a property that was being bought or sold and search the county records for the property, the buyers, and the sellers with regard to most recent taxes, liens, contracts, or transactions. While I worked for an abstract company with an office in the county office building, most of my day was spent visiting various county offices.

The county I worked in had long been under the tight control of a political machine, and my daily observations were a harsh life lesson. There was a law against smoking in public buildings, but some county employees continued to smoke at their desks as much as they wanted without consequence. I remember one office in which a county employee told me she wasn’t going to help me simply because she didn’t want to do so that day. I was told by my employer that there was nothing that could be done about it. “That’s just the way it works,” he said. Then there were the employees who sat in offices and pretty much did nothing all day knowing that they were “untouchable.”

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that corruption exists everywhere. It exists in governments, business, education, healthcare, and religion. Wherever you find a human system you will find individuals who will rig that system for personal power and gain. There is no perfect system because there are no perfect people. I’ve come to believe that the best we can do is to have systemic accountability through checks and balances.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 94, is a song of lament from of one who sees a corrupt system, and those who suffer because of it. In particular, the songwriter calls out the three most vulnerable groups in the Hebrew society of that day: widows, orphans, and foreigners. What is both fascinating and depressing is that the Law of Moses clearly instructed the Hebrews to take care of these three vulnerable groups. The writer of Psalm 94 laments that the system isn’t working.

From my own experience, it’s a helpless, hopeless feeling.

“That’s just the way it works.”

The song shifts in verse 12, and the songwriter places his hope and trust in God being the eternal “Avenger” who will ultimately bring justice to a corrupt world. In placing faith in God’s ultimate plan, the psalmist’s anxiety gives way to joy.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I live in a representative republic in which individuals have some opportunity to address systemic corruption through the voting booth, the courts, speech, protest, and press. At the same time, I recognize that there are some places, even in the best of human systems, in which corruption is “just the way it works.”

This leaves me responsible to do what I can, within the systems I’m in, for those who are most vulnerable. That’s what Jesus calls me to. It also leaves me trusting Him who was crucified at the hands of a corrupt human system, to fulfill His promise of ultimately bringing justice and redemption at the conclusion of the Great Story. Joy, like that the psalmist expressed in the lyrics of today’s chapter, is experienced not in the absence of negative circumstances and human corruption, but in the midst of them.

Of Rules and Appetites

Of Rules and Appetites (CaD Ps 24) Wayfarer

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
    who do not lift up their souls to what is false…

Psalm 24:3-4b (NRSVCE)

The further I get in my life journey, the more I’ve come to understand that the black-and-white behavioral rules of the most strictly religious groups are really about social control in which an institution or group exercise authority over another. The goal and benefit is a sense of order, collective security, and control. Within this type of system, the individual’s role is simple and strict obedience to the group’s behavioral rules (those written, and those insidiously unwritten but understood) under the threat of public shaming and being socially ostracized from the group. This type of system exists as religious fundamentalist sects and denominations, fraternal organizations, gangs, cults, secret societies, and the systemic equivalent can even exist in businesses, corporations, sports teams, and community organizations.

Systems like this have existed throughout history and continue to this day. It is this type of system with which Jesus conflicted in the Temple when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables and railed against the Temple’s religious cabal. It was this conflict that led them to treat Jesus as a threat who was to be ostracized and executed. It is the same system out of which Paul transitioned to becoming a follower of Jesus. Paul also was considered a threat they needed to ostracize and execute.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. It doesn’t really matter which system we’re talking about. They all operate the same way and follow the same basic systemic rules.

The problem with this type of system is that it chains the individual to the group rather than freeing the individual from self. Behavior modification is not about spiritual health but of social order. The individual tries to control behaviors rather than be spiritually transformed. Paul recognized that all the behavioral rules of the system only created more rulebreakers sneaking around in the dark breaking the rules and trying not to get caught.

Scholars believe that today’s psalm was a song David wrote to be sung as the people entered God’s Temple in Jerusalem. If you read it and imagine the Hebrews carrying the Ark of the Covenant (cue: Raiders of the Ark Theme) into the Temple as they sing this song you get the gist. It starts by asking the question: “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord?” (That refers to Zion, on which the Temple was built) and then “Who can stand in his holy place?” (That would refer to the “Holy Place” within the Temple as designed and prescribed through Moses).

The lyric of the song then describes who may do these things. The description is that of a good person, but here’s where translation from the original language (Hebrew) to English can make a huge difference. In verse 4 the English phrase “do not lift up their souls” has an original Hebrew physiological imagery that references the throat. Some scholars argue that the word picture here is more like “nursing an appetite” and the Hebrew word translated “false” is rooted in the idea of “empty” or “vain.” So it’s really about those who don’t nurse their appetites for things that are empty.

In the quiet this morning, that’s what really struck me. What I’ve learned along my journey is that all the religious and systemic rule keeping does not address the real issues of Spirit that lead to transformation. Keeping the rules so as to appease my church leaders, parents, college, pastors, teachers, and peer group in the attempt to avoid being shamed and ostracized did not transform my soul.

What really led to transformation for me was when I realized that all my human appetites were good and created within in me by God. Paul realized it too when he said “Nothing is unlawful for me. It’s just that some things aren’t beneficial.” My appetite for food, for drink, for pleasure, for rest, for sex, for relationship, for security, for peace, for affirmation…all of them are good and part of what God created in me. It’s when I “nurse my appetite,” any one of them, and indulge my good and healthy appetites in empty and unhealthy ways that I hurt myself. And, I bring the unhealthy results to every relationship and system in which I am a part.

It’s not about me behaving for acceptance in a system. It’s about me being the person, the true and healthy self, God created me to be. It’s about what Jesus said when He told His followers to nurse their appetites for the things of God, and not for the things of this earth (including the safety and acceptance of a human system). How can I “love my neighbor as myself” if my unhealthy indulgence of natural appetites is leading to my continual self-injury and disrupting my relationships, my work, my family, and my life?

What appetite am I going to nurse today? That’s the question as I head into the weekend.

Have a great weekend.

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

Before “Old Things Pass Away,” They Often Lure Me Back

Before "Old Things Pass Away," They Often Lure Me Back (CaD Ex 32) Wayfarer

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Exodus 32:1 (NRSVCE)

Along my life’s journey, I have gone through multiple stretches of time in which my life experienced major change. In each one, it was a period of upheaval, deep introspection, conscious breaking with old patterns of thought and behavior, seeking to reach for new things that were further up and further in than anything I’d experienced before. Each time I have gone through one of these shifts has been a period of discomfort. Comfort, on the other hand, is both simple and easy. All I had to do was stay in the same patterns of thought, relationship, and behavior.

When I was in my mid-to-late twenties I began to seriously address some hard-wired, addictive behaviors, and unhealthy patterns of thought and relationships in my life. I began working with a counselor and going to support-groups with others who were dealing with their own unhealthy patterns. One of the things that quickly came into focus for me was that many of the patterns of thought and behavior I was struggling with were present in me as a child and in my adolescence.

In a moment of God’s synchronicity, I just happened to be traveling on business to the city where my older brother lived. My brother is seven years older than me and we rarely saw one another in those days. We got together for dinner and I discovered that he was walking his own version of trying to figure out his own unhealthy patterns. As dinner turned into several hours of late-night conversation, we found ourselves attempting to unravel and understand a mystery to us both. Why, when we return home as adults, do we seem to fall back into what feels like this defined role we had always played in the system with which our family operated, complete with scripted lines, well-rehearsed relational blocking? My brother and I walked that stretch of the journey together. In fact, we’re still on it! But, together we’ve made significant progress and some really worthwhile personal discoveries that have informed our respective lives and relationships.

For anyone who grew up annually watching The Ten Commandments with their family every Easter/Passover weekend, today’s chapter should be eerily familiar. Several chapters ago, Moses when up the mountain to talk with God. It’s been over a month now, and he still hasn’t come down from the mountain. So, the Hebrews basically give-up on their relatively new leader and his unfamiliar God with His really strange belief system. They approach Aaron and ask him to make for them a god just like one of the 1500 gods they were familiar with back in Egypt. Aaron relents, makes a golden calf god, and Moses finds the camp in religious revelry.

I confess this morning that every time I watched the movie and every time I’ve read this story before, I have been led to the prescribed audience reaction. I shake my head and whisper a “tsk, tsk” in self-righteous judgment for the weak-minded Hebrews.

This morning, however, I’m seeing it in a whole new way. The Hebrews were only doing what I so often do. I try to push forward into being more like Jesus in how I think, act, and related to others only to find myself slipping back into comfortable old’ patterns that are comfortable, simple, and easy. I spiritually go home and just mindlessly play the old role I’ve always played. It’s just easier. The Hebrews are simply doing the same. God is pushing them out of Egypt, out of victim-mentality, out of the chains of slave-mindedness, into the spiritual boot camp of the wilderness, into a new way of understanding and a new level of maturing relationship. It feels hard, uncomfortable, strange, and unfamiliar. So, they default to back to what is familiar, comfortable, and easy.

In the quiet this morning, I’m recognizing a pattern that has emerged in this chapter-a-day journey through the Moses-story. I keep seeing how the Moses story relates to the Jesus story. Jesus, like Moses, led His followers into major shifts in understanding God, how we have a relationship with God, and how that should lead us to relate to one another and our world. However, when the Jesus movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire it was the golden calf moment for Jesus’ followers. In short order, the Jesus movement went back to old, entrenched patterns of social hierarchy, patriarchy, and religious institutionalism.

How do I change? How to I grow? How do I allow old things to pass away and lay hold of the new things God has for me? I’m still learning that piece, but I have learned along the way that it takes both willful determination and the faith to jump and trust that the net will appear. It requires the patience and perseverance to endure discomfort and to keep running even when I hit the wall. It’s helpful, almost essential, to have good companions with me and good mentors out ahead of me. It demands that I learn to have grace with myself when I stumble, stall, and fall back; To receive the grace that God endlessly showers on me if I simply open my heart to it.

It requires that I press on.

And so, on this Monday morning I’m lacing ’em up once again. Another wayfaring stranger on his way home over Jordan.

Thanks for being my companion on the journey today, my friend.

Let’s go!

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