Transience

Thorns will overrun her citadels,
    nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
    a home for owls.
Isaiah 34:13 (NIV)

If you travel down by the Dead Sea today and look to the south you’ll be looking at the lands of the ancient kingdom of Edom. The Edomites were one of ancient Israel’s constant foes and in today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah predicts (with more than a hint of schadenfreude) that Edom would become a place of desolation, the home of desert animals.

I had the opportunity to stand on the southern shores of the Dead Sea and to look at the land. The featured photo of this post is one I took of the southern end of the Dead Sea. It is a very desolate place. Isaiah’s schadenfreude aside, his prophetic vision of Edom’s downfall was eventually realized. The Edomites slowly declined and the Kingdom of Edom did not survive the Babylonian invasion in the 6th century B.C..

One of the subtle lessons that was impressed on me while traveling in Israel was the transience of civilization. There are so many ruins, archaeological digs, and desolate places where great cities and kingdoms once thrived. It was a reminder to me of the breadth of human history and how each of us experience just a minute sliver of it.

I read Isaiah’s prophecy of doom for Edom and I can’t help but wonder if my quaint little hometown of Pella will be an archaeological site 1,000 years from now. It is so easy to think about our lives and world in such assured terms. A brief glance at history reminds me how silly such thinking can be.

This morning I’m thinking about the transience of kingdoms, nations, and empires. I’m reminded of the transience of my own life. Especially in this current season, I’m reminded that Jesus said He came that we might experience Life in abundance. A good reminder to enjoy all that this day holds.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Latest 12-6-2016

Wendy and I have been crazy busy with Union Street Players‘ holiday musical, The Christmas Post. It’s the third time Wendy has directed the show (2001, 2006, 2016) and for the second time I have suited up to play the comedic villain. Wendy, as anyone who knows her can imagine, is a very capable and organized director. She’s done great things with the show. This past weekend was the opening weekend and we saw increased attendance with each performance (225, 242, 289) which tells me that we’ve gotten good word-of-mouth in the community.  There are three more performances: tonight, Friday night, and Saturday afternoon.

It was great to have family down to see the show this past weekend. My folks came on Saturday, along with my sister, and brought with them a small crowd of old friends from Des Moines. Taylor came down on Sunday afternoon, as did Wendy’s family who made the trek from Ankeny. We’re so appreciative of family’s love and support. The one down-side is that we are so busy with the show that we don’t really get a chance to socialize with our visitors. We’re looking forward to hosting family on Christmas Day when we can relax and enjoy their good company.

For the past couple of weeks I have been feeling really run down. This isn’t unusual during a large production, but I have been feeling unusually run down. It hasn’t been like cold or flu, just feeling like the energy tank is constantly on empty. I was really struggling over the weekend. I slept 10 hours on Saturday night and woke up feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. I told Wendy that I felt like I had pneumonia. There’s only two times in my life that I can remember feeling so utterly depleted: when I had Pneumonia and when I had Mono.

I felt like I was on the verge of passing out  most all of Sunday’s performance, and was thankful for the prayers and thoughts of family and friends who were in the know. When we went out for the curtain call one of my fellow actors looked at me and said, “You look really pale.” And, that was with make-up on. I’m so thankful I made it through the show, but the energy I expended to gut it out really did a number on me. I was in bed nearly 12 hours on Sunday night and still had to drag myself out of bed. Ugh.

So, yesterday I went to see Doc. He tested my blood and immediately diagnosed me with a “Mono-like” virus. Great. Nothing to be done but fluids, vitamins, and rest. I’m praying that my immune system kicks it into high gear. There’s still a lot to get through this week.

We’re excited for Taylor. She recently landed a job with Think Digital in Des Moines. She’s moved out of the Catholic Worker Community (though she will continue to volunteer her time there) and rented a small apartment in the Drake neighborhood. Ironically, she’s living on the same street where my mom grew up. There’s something in the synergy of that which makes me smile.

Madison is staying very busy this time of year. Working sales in the retail environment makes life very hectic during the holiday season. She is continuing to build community in SC and doesn’t seem too sad about the more temperate weather she’s experiencing there. We’re looking forward to having her home for New Year’s.

Hard to believe that another year is drawing to a close. Our work continues to keep us busy, as well. We’re finishing up 2016 project work and I’m busy working on 2017 proposals and renewals. I’m grateful to have seen small, incremental growth this year, though it’s continued to be a tough slog since the 2008 recession. As I speak with clients I’m finding there’s a generally positive sentiment in the business community for the first time in many years. I’m praying it translates into good things this coming year.

Public Fear; Personal Assurance

It has been fascinating for me to watch the post-election panic and fearful protests on the streets of many American cities since the election. Fear leads us to behave in interesting ways, as it has throughout human history. People are people, and the fearful residents of Jerusalem c. 701 B.C. are also displaying their fear in public ways.

Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,

    no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
    its witnesses are despised,
    no one is respected.
Isaiah 33:7-8 (NIV)

The fear in Jerusalem is well justified. The dreaded army of the regional superpower, Assyria, has swept through the north and is now moving on Jerusalem. It is a large army well-trained, well-equipped, and battle hardened. It is an army unlike anything the people of Jerusalem have ever faced. The Assyrian army’s reputation for destruction, violence, and brutality has preceded them.  It is no wonder that order is giving way to fearful chaos on the streets of Jerusalem.

It is always darkest before the day dawns, it has been often said. That is the overarching theme of Isaiah’s message in today’s chapter. In darkness we tend to grasp for light. If the power goes out we seek flashlights and candles, when things get spiritually dark we reach for God. The ancient seer describes the fear of Assyria leading the people to repent and call on God for deliverance, and he then promises that deliverance.

Jerusalem will not fall to Assyria, Isaiah proclaims, though it will not be delivered by human effort:

Your rigging hangs loose:
    The mast is not held secure,
    the sail is not spread.
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
    and even the lame will carry off plunder.

A wealth of plunder and spoils, but not from anything the people of Judah have traded for. The word picture is of a trade ship that has sailed no where. So where will the all the spoil and plunder come from? God is going to deliver it personally. God will deliver the people of Judah from the Assyrians.

This morning I am thinking about how Isaiah’s message was received by his family, friends and neighbors who were shaking in fear. I have a hard time believing that it was accepted heartily. I doubt that it provided many with comfort and assurance. Rampant fear is not so easily assuaged, as current events bear witness.

Nevertheless, I look back on my life’s journey and recall many times of corporate fear. As a child I learned to duck and cover from a Soviet nuclear strike, and as an adult I watched friends and family stockpile gold, guns and supplies for the apocalypse that was feared with the new millennium and the Y2K virus.

I understand that some threats are real and some fears are justified. Still, if I am truly a follower of Jesus, then my heart tells me that Jesus’ personal teaching should always trump public fear:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:33 (MSG)

chapter a day banner 2015

The Undeniable Reality of Change

Though hail flattens the forest
    and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
    sowing your seed by every stream,
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.
Isaiah 32:19-20 (NIV)

Things change. It’s an undeniable part of life’s journey.

Sometimes the change is subtle. A sailboat’s point-of-sail can change a seemingly imperceptible degree or two on the compass, but that change will ultimately take the boat to a completely different destination.

Sometimes the change is dramatic. Tectonic plates shift beneath my feet, shaking me to the very core of my being. Complacency is replaced by confusion. The familiar is replaced by fear. Forget the notion of a degree’s difference. I can’t seem to find my bearing at all.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah sends the message loud and clear: Get ready for things to change.

“…you who feel secure will tremble

The fortress will be abandoned,
    the noisy city deserted;
citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever.”

But the change isn’t an end. Change is a waypoint in the journey. Change is the process through which complacency is transformed into commitment. Fear is metamorphosed into faith. Anxiety is redeemed by assurance.

The ancient prophet doesn’t end with doom and destruction. Amidst the change, he says, “the Spirit is poured on us from on high.” Change is not the end. It’s just a waypoint in the journey propelling us to a place of hope:

“Though hail flattens the forest
    and the city is leveled completely,
how blessed you will be,
    sowing your seed by every stream,
    and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.”

This morning I’m remembering changes I have experienced, both subtle and dramatic. I’m recounting the lessons I have learned moving through those waypoints. I am recognizing the good things I have learned; the good place I find myself this morning.

Things change. It’s an undeniable part of life’s journey. It means I am in process. Life is in motion. I am being propelled further up and further in. Change is a good thing if I am willing to accept it. As Isaiah pleads with me with morning:

“...rise up and listen…

…hear what I have to say.”

 

chapter a day banner 2015

 

The Placement of Faith in Precarious Times

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
    who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
    and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
    or seek help from the Lord.
Isaiah 31:1 (NIV)

The political situation in Isaiah’s day was precarious. Assyria was a giant, regional super power bent on conquest and destruction. The Assyrian army was on the move, swallowing up every city and nation in its way. The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were now in Assyria’s sights. The Assyrian war machine was large, well-trained, well-equipped and utterly ruthless. The Assyrians didn’t just invade, they destroyed. Assyrian kings would repeatedly inscribe the phrase, “I destroyed, devastated, and burned with fire.”

If the Assyrians attacked a city and the city refused to surrender, the men leading the defense of their target would be rounded up to be publicly humiliated. Some could look forward to being flayed alive, their skins hung out for public spectacle. Others could look forward to being impaled alive on stakes or perhaps buried alive. If you approached a city in Isaiah’s day and  found a pile of dismembered limbs by the gate, you knew that the Assyrians had been there. It is no wonder that Isaiah and the people of Judah were in a bit of a panic. The political winds were blowing in the direction of Egypt, believing that an alliance with Egypt would save them from Assyrian devastation.

In today’s chapter, the ancient prophet questions the object of his fellow citizens faith. They were depending on Egypt to save them. They were bowing to foreign Gods in desperation for salvation. Isaiah reminds them that their trust should be in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah predicts that Assyria’s ultimate fall would not come about from a “human sword.”

Throughout God’s Message there is a recurring theme. The ebb and flow of power throughout history is subject to a larger context. There is a Great Story that is being told in an ever-expanding universe. As with all great epics, the forces of good and evil, creation and chaos, are in constant conflict. I can focus on the temporal circumstance, or I can trust the Author of Life with the storyline. Isaiah was suggesting the latter, and predicting that the Author was going to show up in a eucatastrophic climax to this particular chapter of history. It might seem a bit naive given the grave circumstances. We’ll learn in the coming week or two how things played out.

This morning I’m thinking about the very real fear and anxiety being felt by people and nations in today’s world. I listen to the feelings of people in the media, on social media, and in casual personal conversations. We are witnessing a fascinating time of tremendous change. There is a tremendous amount of fear, and fear leads us to think, speak, and act in atypical ways. It seems to me that Isaiah’s ancient message to the people of Judah resonates even today. We are living in precarious times, as well.

Where will I find hope?

Where will I place my faith?

chapter a day banner 2015

 

The Mystery of Real Strength

This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
Isaiah 30:15 (NIV)

I have a tat on my left bicep. It is a reference to King David’s song of repentance, written after he’d been caught committing adultery, conspiracy, and murder (along with a host of other mistakes). The reference is on my the left arm because throughout the ages the left has metaphorically been used in reference to foolishness, oddity, and wrong doing (Wendy and I are both left-handed, btw). It has an illuminated “P” inspired by the Book of Kells in honor of the monks of Ireland who kept God’s Word alive on the edges of the known world while the institutional church and ecclesiastical powers in Rome and France led the western world into the dark ages. It is on my bicep to remind me of exactly what the ancient prophet Isaiah called out in today’s chapter:

In repentance and rest is your salvation,
In quietness and trust is your strength

For a good, long time on my life journey I followed the path I find most of the world follows. I hid my shortcomings beneath a well crafted public veneer of purity and self-righteousness. Like a successful political candidate I obfuscated, excused, ignored, and covered up. I refused to acknowledge my selfish motives, wanton appetites, and foolish choices. Like David, I woke up one day to find myself at a place on life’s road I swore I would never be. I had wandered so far.

My experience taught me hard and painful lessons in humility. Trouble is a powerful tutor, and I quietly began to understand what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Corinth “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

The mystery of the spiritual paradox began to lay hold of me. In repentance is strength. Spiritual power is birthed through grace amidst the shattered pieces of my life and the tragic evidence of my own frail humanity. I struck out in a new direction, understanding that repentance, not self-righteousness, was the way of strength.

I put a tat on my left bicep to remind me, every day for the rest of my journey, what I have learned, and what I am continually learning.

Last night on the way home from rehearsal I was scanning through the music on my iPhone and stumbled upon an unlikely song I didn’t really know I had. It’s essentially a negro spiritual sung by the old Irish rocker Tom Jones. Talk about a paradox. I listened to it multiple times on the way home. Seems now like a bit of synchronicity in light of my thoughts this morning. I may find myself in a place of trouble, but God uses that trouble “for to make me human, to make me whole.”

Here are the words:

When I close my eyes, so I would not see,
My Lord did trouble me.
When I let things stand that should not be,
My Lord did trouble me. 

Did trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With a ring of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

When I slept too long and I slept too deep,
Put a worrisome vision into my sleep.
When I held myself away and apart,
And the tears of my brother didn’t move my heart. 

Did trouble me,
With a word and a sign,
With a ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Did trouble me,
Did stir my soul
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

And of this I’m sure, of this I know:
My Lord will trouble me.
Whatever I do, wherever I go,
My Lord will trouble me. 

In the whisper of the wind, in the rhythm of a song
My Lord will trouble me.
To keep me on the path where I belong,
My Lord will trouble me. 

Will trouble me,
With a word or a sign,
With the ringing of a bell in the back of my mind.
Will trouble me,
Will stir my soul,
For to make me human, to make me whole. 

To make me human, to make me whole.

Thanksgiving 2016

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Wendy’s family in Ankeny this year. Wendy and I waited for Grandma VH to get back from her church’s Thanksgiving service so we could pick her up and take her with us. We arrived around noon and the meal was just about ready.

With a total of seven Hall siblings, it’s increasingly rare to have all the family together. This year there were four siblings home for the festivities. Josh was home for the first time in years and it was our first opportunity to meet his bride, Ellie. Brother Lucas and his wife Brooke were there as well as Wendy’s sister, Suzanna. Taylor drove up from Des Moines to join us as well. There were FaceTime calls with other family members during the afternoon.

It was a traditional Thanksgiving feast which was wonderful. All of us gathered around the table together. Lots of love, laughter, and a little teasing. Wendy’s Dutch Letter Cheesecake was, unquestionably, the hit of the afternoon – which was spent watching football and enjoying conversation in the family room together.

2016-madisons-friendsgiving-in-columbia-sc
Madison’s “Friendsgiving” in South Carolina.

We wish Madison could have been with us, but when you’re a young salesperson working in retail your presence on Black Friday is pretty much mandatory. Maddy Kate enjoyed “Friendsgiving” with her growing community in South Carolina, and we’re thankful that she has a wonderful group of friends developing in her new home. Taylor left Ankeny in the late afternoon to join another Thanksgiving celebration with friends from the Catholic Worker community in Des Moines.

I got to spend Thanksgiving with my folks a week ago. Their retirement community has an annual feast on the weekend before Thanksgiving in which family are invited to share a special meal prepared by the Chef and staff there. My sister Jody and I were able to celebrate with them there. My folks were at Jody’s house on Thanksgiving yesterday.

There is so much for which I am thankful. When I stop to think about it all…well, it gets a little overwhelming.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

%d bloggers like this: