The Continuous Struggle

If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days…If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks….
Leviticus 12:2, 5 (NRSV)

I am going to be honest. There are still many things that cause me to scratch my head as I journey through God’s Message. I am content to accept the fact that my 21st century American brain cannot completely fathom the realities of life in the middle east c.1500 B.C. It does not stop me from being curious and inquisitive.

In today’s chapter, we read the Levitical system’s prescribed purification rights for women after they’ve given birth to a child. If a woman gave birth to a male child in the that culture she was deemed “unclean” for 40 days. If she had a female child, the period of being “unclean” doubled to 80 days. Even the scholarly text notes in my study Bible states: “It is not clear why the period of uncleanness after the birth of a baby boy (40 days) was half the period for a girl (80 days).” [cue: scratching head]

There is no doubt that ancient cultures, by-and-large, valued male births more than female births. It was a brutal period of human history. Daily life was a bloody, violent version of “king of the mountain.” Wars between tribes, clans, and towns waged non-stop. Power ebbed and flowed through never ending battles of local conquest. Boys became warriors and hunters required to protect, provide, and conquer.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the past year there has been a lot of press about China’s infamous program of population control, and the Chinese government’s moves to change the policy now that its unintended effects are shaking their society. Over the years China has gone to horrific lengths to control the birth rate of their people. Hearkening back to the misogynistic practices of history,  male births were preferential to female births. According to one report, by 2020 there will be 30 million more men in China than women. A certain amount of societal chaos is now anticipated.

Beyond the natural, cultural considerations, however, there is a spiritual context that has to be considered. Going back to the Garden of Eden, to original sin, and to the harsh spiritual realities that were unleashed at the beginning. God speaks to the Serpent, to Eve, and to Adam of the consequences of their willful disobedience.

Among the woeful, core consequences is “hatred” between the serpent and the woman. Misogyny is evil, and at the very beginning of the Great Story we see that Evil (a la, the Serpent) is expelled from the Garden with a core, misogynistic hatred of women. The never ending power struggle between male and female is also alluded to as a foundational spiritual consequence of the Fall and continues to be a hot topic in our society, our political campaigns, and our current events.

This morning I am, once again, amazed that God saw fit to surround me with strong, beautiful, capable, intelligent, wise women. I will confess to you that, in certain moments of life, I have experienced pangs of that common male desire to have a son and occasional pangs of grief that it was not part of the plan for me. Fascinating to think about in the context of today’s thoughts. Nevertheless, I have been blessed to be surrounded by females, and it has made me a better man.

This morning is one of those mornings when I walk away from my quiet time with more questions than answers, more curiosity than certainty. I am, however, thinking about the women in my life. I’m thinking how much I truly honor and appreciate them and their femininity. I am again inspired this morning to continually root out deep seated misogynistic tendencies in my own heart, and to seek ways to join the struggle against the enmity against women that has been present from the Fall. I have been surrounded in this life journey by women, and I love ’em.

Rules That Serve a Time and a Place

This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.
Leviticus 11:46-47 (NRSV)

Rules and laws are often culturally important for their time and place in history, but time moves on and so does culture. In retrospect, some old laws and rules seem silly to us.

In my home state of Iowa it is against the law for a moustached man to kiss women in public. It’s also illegal in the hawkeye state for a kiss to last longer than five minutes in public. In Iowa all one-armed piano players are required, by law, to play for free. Ministers in Iowa must apply for a permit to carry liquor across state lines. Reading palms in public is strictly (well, maybe not so strictly) forbidden by law in our state. My friends in Ottumwa should know that it’s against the law for a man to wink at a woman he doesn’t know within the city limits. The food service vendor at the Iowa State Capitol way want to remember that, by a resolution passed by the Iowa congress, they must serve cornbread.

In similar fashion, the Levitical laws in today’s chapter pertaining to what the ancient Hebrews could and could not eat were relatively important in their time. The dietary rules that categorized food into “clean” and “unclean” generally protected the population from a health perspective in an age when hygiene and health were not common considerations.

For the good, Jewish followers of Jesus, the dietary rules and regulations of Leviticus were repealed shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus had made clear to his followers that they were to spread his Message to all peoples, even non-Jewish Gentiles, and they were to tear down the cultural walls separating the cultures. In a vision, God made clear to Peter that God was making “clean” the foods that Leviticus had deemed “unclean.” The Levitical rules had served their purpose for their time and place. The times, they were a changin’.

This morning I’m thinking about laws and rules. From family rules to religious rules, from civic laws to social mores, we are guided throughout life by rules that govern our time and place. But times change and rules change all of the time. There are core rules like those in the ten commandments, that are applicable for all people in all times and places. Killing, lying, stealing and coveting are never a good thing no matter what time and place you find yourself. There are other rules that serve their time and place.

Wisdom is discerning the difference.

 

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The Spiritual Balk Rule

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his censer, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered unholy fire before the Lord, such as he had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
Leviticus 10:1-2 (NRSV)

The opening of today’s chapter is a pretty harsh “good morning” as I begin my day reading with sleep weary eyes. These two sons of Aaron screwed up on the incense portion of the whole sacrificial system. They broke the balk rule of the Levitical code. The penalty? Immediate death by fire.

Yikes!

I often say that one of the important things about the journey through God’s Message is that, over time, you begin to connect dots throughout the Great Story. In this case, the first dot goes back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve commit a balk with the forbidden fruit, it starts a chain reaction. Sin, that penchant for willfully doing what we know we shouldn’t while willfully choosing not to do things we know we should, enters the human equation. And, a holy God can’t abide sin. So it is announced right at the beginning, that the penalty for all spiritual balks is death. Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden. The Great Story is about humanity’s wayfaring journey to get back Home.

Along this journey, there are other scattered dots to be connected. They are like waypoints hearkening back to Adam and Eve’s original balk, and reminding us that God’s spiritual balk rule does not change. Nada and Abihu are actually not the only ones:

  • Cane’s offering was not pleasing to the Lord. He is cursed and eventually dies.
  • Hophni and Phineas treated God’s offering with contempt, and died.
  • A man name Uzzah reached his hand out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. He touched it, and died.
  • Ananias and Sapphira lied about he and his wife’s offering to the Lord, and died.

These waypoints remind us that God’s spiritual balk rule is foundational to the Great Story. It doesn’t change over time. The penalty of sin is death. Forgiveness and redemption require that the penalty for the spiritual balk rule must be satisfied. In the days of Leviticus the remedy was a labyrinth of sacrifices and offerings. Ultimately, it would be God who would send Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb to pay the ultimate penalty for all of our balks, once for all.

The Slog and Reward of Obedience

Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces.
Leviticus 9:23-24 (NRSV)

As a father, I have experienced pleasure and appreciation when my children do what they have been asked to do; when they do what they are supposed to do. It started as small children when Taylor and Madison would be told not to touch this or to help pick up their toys. As they grew, the rules became more complex and obedience was desired and expected when they weren’t in my presence as well as when they were. As they progressed into adulthood it transitioned from their adherence to parental rules or demands, into simply the pleasure of watching children making wise choices on their own and doing what was right as they were self-motivated to do so.

Today’s chapter is rather boring. The first 22 of the 24 verses of the chapter is a recitation of Aaron and his sons, under Moses supervision, carrying out the sacrifices just as they had been prescribed in previous chapters…

  • Sin offering….check
  • Dip finger in blood….check
  • Sprinkle on altar….check
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Yada
  • Yada
  • Yada

I was tempted to bail on the chapter early on. “Yep, I read that before. Okay, I get it. They’re doing what had been prescribed exactly as it had been prescribed before.

Then we get to the final paragraph of the chapter. After all had been done exactly just as it had been exactly prescribed, Aaron the high priest goes with Moses into the tent. Inside the tent was where God’s presence resided, and it was obedience to doing the prescribed sacrifices that made the way for Aaron to enter God’s presence. When they come out from the tent and from God’s presence they are aglow with God’s glory and fire from heaven falls and consumes the sacrifices. Wow! Spectacular pyrotechnics to conclude an otherwise boring chapter.

And, that’s the point. Humanity, and the Hebrews in this particular case, are in the toddler stages of history. God the Father is teaching simple obedience. Do this, like this. When they do, they experience the glory of the Father’s good pleasure in supernatural ways.

This morning I’m thinking about our life journeys. When we are young we learn simple obedience and direct reward. Do my chores, obey parental commands, and I will earn my allowance and stave off their wrath. As we get older we learn that life does not always offer such direct rewards. I can do everything right and I still can’t find a job. Tragedy strikes even when I’m a good and obedient person whose working hard to do all the right things the right ways. As Jesus said, “Sun shines on both the good and evil person. Rain falls on both the just and the unjust.”

Nevertheless, as an adult I learn that being obedient to laws and rules and God’s desired behaviors has its own subtle and tangible rewards. It can be as subtly powerful as experiencing the pride and pleasure of a parent. It can also be the knowledge that doing the right thing does stave off a host of potentially damaging consequences for me and my loved ones. We learn simple direct lessons when we are children in order to learn the wise principles we will need when we are adults. Being wise and obedient, endeavoring perpetually to do the right things in this life, sometimes feels like a long slog. It feels like reading Leviticus chapter 9. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah…

Ultimately, there’s both a reason and a reward for making the slog. And, once again, I find myself at the beginning of another day.

Lace ’em up for the slog. I’m pressin’ on.

 

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Priests, Protestants and Me

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man, and it was Aaron and his sons who were chosen to be the priests in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrews. In today’s chapter, God through Moses takes Aaron and his sons through a ritual of ordination to become priests. It is a long ritual filled with metaphor from their priestly vestments to a little dab ‘ill do ya of blood on the ear lobe.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. A priest stands in the spiritual gap. The priest represents God to humanity and represents humanity before God. A priest is spiritually elevated and ordained to handle and serve the sacrifice, to carry our prayers into the presence of the Almighty, and to bestow forgiveness and absolution to the common sinner.

Among Christian institutions, the priesthood is one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism (and Greek Orthodox and Anglican) and the Protestant denominations. Protestants believe that since Jesus death and resurrection there is only one priest and mediator, and it is Jesus:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Hebrews 4:14

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all….” 1 Timothy 2:5

Three of the four gospel writers report that when Jesus died the curtain in the Hebrew temple was torn in two. That curtain separated people from the area of the temple where God resided. Only the priest could enter. When the curtain was torn, the way was made for anyone to enter into God’s presence. Jesus was the sacrifice, the mediator, and the priest who stands in the gap.

In my Protestant circles, we think very little of the role of a priest anymore. I have, however, observed along my journey that Protestants often like to unwittingly bestow priestly powers on our pastors and spiritual leaders. It seems there is something innately human about doing so despite what we say we believe.

This morning I’m mulling over my own understanding of the role of priests, the work of Jesus and what that means. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. The curtain is torn. The way is open for me to enter into God’s presence. I need no other emissary, or representative, or priest. I need only approach.

Will I?

 

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The Latest 07-17-2016

Summer 2016 is almost half over. Time flies. Late June and early July have been on-the-go for Wendy and me. We headed to the lake at the end of June and spent a rainy 4th of July weekend together. It literally rained non-stop, with maybe one or two brief breaks, for over two days. It was actually kind of depressing. We stayed inside and began binge watching House of Cards.

bear bottom with rooses

On July 4th we were joined at the lake by Kev, Beck, and the kiddos. The weather finally started to break and we were able to enjoy the better part of two days together. We ate at Captain Ron’s the evening of the 4th, and then went to Bear Bottom the following day for some fun in the sun. Wendy and headed for home that afternoon while our friends stayed to enjoy the rest of the week at the lake.

Congrats to our Taylor! She headed to Scotland right after the holiday weekend. She walked the stage at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh to receive her Master’s Degree. We’re sorry not to have been there with her, but so proud of her. She’s staying in Scotland and will work at the Fringe Festival there in July and August.

Wendy and I have been spending a good part of our summer doing some finish work on decorating our house. After moving in last year there were a number of things that we just decided to put off for the sake of time, energy and finances. We got some new furniture both upstairs and downstairs which meant moving and rearranging in several rooms. I installed some dimmer switches in V-Dub pub to give us more control of the “ambiance.”

Happy Birthday, Grandma!
Happy Birthday, Grandma!

It was fun to host our niece, Lydia, and two of her friends last weekend. Lydia was playing a wedding on Saturday and her friends were along to make it a girls weekend. It was nice to get to play host to the lovely ladies. I preached last Sunday at Celebrate Church in Knoxville, and we celebrated Grandma VH’s 89th birthday that afternoon with a small family gathering at her apartment.

I was on the road this week in Texas along with one of our team members, Nick. It’s a trip we make quarterly. It was very hot in Texas and on Wednesday night we decided to go out and have some fun. We went to a Laredo Lemurs game. The Lemurs play in an independent league not affiliated with MLB. It’s mostly ex-college players and minor league castaways who want to keep playing and hoping for a shot. Nick and I actually had a great night and enjoyed both the baseball and the Lemur.

I finished up earlier than expected on Friday. My flight wasn’t until late afternoon. So, I spent a couple of hours having an artist’s date at the McNay art museum in San Antonio. It’s still one of my happiest places on earth.

Madison Matt at Wedding

Madison’s summer has been a combination of building both community and career in South Carolina while maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend Matt back in Colorado. They’ve traveled back and forth to see one another. She’s back in Colorado this weekend attending a wedding with Matt. The two were here with us at Tulip Time, and we’ll get to see them again at the end of August when they meet us at the lake for a few days.

christmas-post-header

As we head toward the dog days of August, Wendy is busy prepping for her role as Director of the community theater holiday production, The Christmas Post. This is the third time she’s directed the show. It’s been ten years since the last one. I’ll be auditioning for the show as well as playing the role as her Producer. Auditions are in a few weeks and all of the leg work has begun.

 

Three Heroes: Miles Davis

I was recently challenged by a friend to embark on this exercise. They’d been working on it as part of an identity statement they were developing for a class. Quite simply, you pick three people who are “heroes” or individuals you greatly admire. It can be almost anyone, but should be someone famous and someone you don’t know personally. For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, it was requested that He be excluded from this particular exercise.

I figured this lends itself to a good blogging challenge. There were a handful of finalists but I finally narrowed it down to three. As it happens, I have had photos of these three gentlemen taped on the front of my old, worn, paperback Bible for many years. [see featured image of this post]

The first hero I blogged about was Winston Churchill.
Today… it’s Miles Davis

Those who have followed my blog for any length of time may not be surprised to see Miles Davis’ name on my list. I reference the famous jazz trumpeter on a fairly regular basis and I even posted a review of his biography a number of years ago. Nevertheless, it seems a bit incongruent for this Iowa white boy with little musical ability and strong spiritual priorities to find the heroic in a gifted, conflicted black musician whose demons and appetites led to tragic places. It may not seem an obvious choice.

My exposure to Miles began with a Christmas gift. In fourth grade I began taking drum lessons at Woodlawn elementary school. That year my brothers gave me a couple of record albums to inspire my budding, percussive aspirations. One album was Buddy Rich. The other was Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. For those who are not familiar with jazz, it is perhaps the best known jazz album of all time, and for good reason. It sparked a love affair with jazz.

In high school I continued to love jazz music. While my friends at Hoover High School were listening to Def Leppard, The Police, and Journey I was home listening to a wide selection of jazz from Weather Report to Grover Washington Jr. to Chuck Mangione. But, while many of my jazz favorites were flirtations and brief love affairs, I began to realize that Kind of Blue somehow became the true love that always hearkened me back. There was something about Miles that sunk deep in my soul.

Through my post-college years and into my 30s I lost my way creatively in many ways. When I lost my way creatively I unknowingly wandered from the person God created me to be. Unfulfilled, confused, and life-less, the disconnect led me to chase after passions into dark places. By grace, I found the artist’s way back. I began to reclaim my birthright as a child of the Creator.

It was during that journey that I hearkened back, once again, to my true love – Kind of Blue. It was then that he began to emerge as an artistic hero. I began to listen to more of Miles’ music. We were now on a journey together. Miles Ahead and Birth of the Cool were added to the list and I began to hear his own artistry evolving through the chronology of recordings. I loved the way he both honored the genius of a classic like Porgy and Bess while layering it with his own artistry. Sketches of Spain made all sorts of artistic connections for me to Picasso and Hemingway and I began to appreciate Miles’ own artistic journeys and explorations. He seemed to fill the well of his soul and music with input from such a broad, rich diversity of sources. I got that. I identified with that. It stoked my creativity and inspired me. Miles Davis, through his music, became a pied piper, a mentor, and a muse for my own creative journey.

As I learned more about Miles the man, I was fascinated. Like many artistic geniuses, he seems to have been a complex person. I don’t think he was particularly easy to be around. Unlike Winston Churchill, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed his company over dinner. Yet, even in his frailties, struggles, and failures I found myself identifying with that basic struggle those of us with artistic temperament have to create something beautiful amidst the ugliness of your own humanity .

Miles was a man of intense passions that he struggled to control. He faced and fought his own personal demons. Temporary victories gave way to repeated defeat. His soul carried scars. He hurt those he loved most. I get that, too.

Perhaps the greatest reason that Miles has become a creative hero to me is the fearless way he opened himself creatively to everything. I have twice posted on his theme “there are no wrong notes.” He was fearless in attempting new things, pushing the envelope, absorbing what others were doing and then weaving it into his own work. He wasn’t afraid to re-invent himself, push into places no one expected him to go, and where few seemed to understand. He was willing to try, to dare, and to explore new horizons. And, as he got older it seems that he never stopped. I hope that I might reflect even a small fraction of that spirit of creation.

 

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

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