Still a Small Cog in a Broken Machine

O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.
Isaiah 3:12b (NRSV)

As I write this post, the United States is amidst the most strange political season in my lifetime. In fact, data indicate it may be the most unusual presidential election in our relatively short history as the two major candidates are the more unpopular than any since we gained the ability to track such things.

In my life journey I’ve observed that all human governments are given to corruption. Even the Vatican, a relatively small independent state presumably dedicated to Christ, is constantly fighting corruption (especially at the Vatican Bank). All human organizations are run by spiritually broken human beings. In the case of national governments you will find leaders who are given to indulging their self-centric appetites. Rules are rigged to favor the incumbent, to hold on to power, to profit from power, and to maintain the status quo. Every human government from socialist to monarchy to representative republic shows evidence of this fact.

This should not come as a surprise to any follower of Jesus.

Jesus said that He came to proclaim to us the Kingdom of God. But, He made it clear that the Kingdom of God is not like the Kingdoms and governments of this world:

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”

This morning I am, once again, reminded of my dual citizenship. I am a citizen of the United States and a citizen of God’s Kingdom. One is temporal, the other eternal. One is of this world, the other is not. Citizenship in the latter does not excuse me from my responsibilities in the former. In fact, it only makes me more responsible. God’s kingdom compels me to exercise my civic rights and responsibilities in this world as a representative of God’s kingdom.

Like many other Americans, I am not excited about any of the choices our political system has given us this election cycle. Like all human governments, our is ultimately broken. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility as a citizen of this system to be considerate, to be part of the process, and to vote as I am led. Leaders may confuse and mislead, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us this morning, but it does not exempt me from my own personal responsibilities as a small cog in the imperfect machine.

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Devoted to a Bread Maker

Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.
Isaiah 2:7-8 (NRSV)

Last night Wendy and I were on the couch watching the Cubs game when we were surprised by the doorbell. There was a small group of high school youth from one of our area churches who were on a “bigger or better” scavenger hunt. They had with them a stuffed snowman they had procured from a previous, unsuspecting neighbor.  “Do you have anything that’s bigger or better than this that you’d trade for it?” the young people asked.

Our basement storage room (which is quite sizable) is filled with things we are not using and may not even remember we have. So is the garage attic, and the back of the garage. The answer to the young people’s question should really be: “Yes! How many options would you like us to give you among the infinite number of boxes, totes an bins full of things we own but don’t use?”

Then, as Wendy scoured the basement storage and I scoured the garage, the more nagging question became a reality. “What thing, of all this junk I don’t use and forget I even own, am I willing to part with?” It is so intriguing to find how much value we place, not on the object itself, but on the possession of it.

We offered the excited group of young people an old bread maker I found sitting in the garage, and Wendy put our new stuffed snowman with our stack of Christmas decorations. Everyone enjoyed a laugh and we wished the young people well on their scavenger hunt. I wonder what they ended up with.

I thought about last night’s experience as I listened to the prophet Isaiah (I listened to this morning’s chapter being read as I returned from a breakfast appointment this morning) describe the neighboring nations. He described their wealth, their riches and their possessions. They made cast idols and then bowed down “to the work of their hands.”

If find that we in 21st century western culture are quick to be dismissive at the thought of idolatry as described by the ancient prophets. People bowing down to a golden calf or a statue of some animal seems so silly. But, I’m not sure I’m really willing to see the point. What is “worship” but the act of being devoted to something? And what is “devotion” but the giving of time, attention and energy to something?

“…they bow down to the work of their hands.”

How much time, energy ad attention do I devote to the acquisition, maintenance, upkeep, renovation, and storage of “the work of our hands?” Perhaps I am devoted to things made by human hands. Perhaps what was called “idolatry” in 700 B.C., I simply call “success” in a consumerist culture.

This morning I am rolling my own eyes at myself, and the discomfort I feel with the questions I’m asking myself. I don’t like asking myself, “Am I willing to part with this old bread maker sitting in my garage which hasn’t been used in years?” and acknowledging that there’s a small voice in my soul that balks at giving it up. At the same time, I am feeling really good about giving it up and having it out of my garage. Perhaps it’s a mustard seed of change.

Lord, have mercy on this poor soul that bows down to things made with hands.

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Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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Kauai: Day 9

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Our last full day on Kauai started a bit later than usual. Wendy and I rose just after sunrise and enjoyed a cup of coffee together. We got ready early and headed out to explore the west side of the island. We stopped for a light pastry breakfast and drove around the southern side of the island. It’s a bit of a strange experience because one minute you are driving through tropical rain forest, then you cross into an arid plain that reminded us a lot of eastern Colorado.

We headed up the highway along Waimea Canyon which climbs in 18 miles from sea level to about 4,000 ft. Along the long and winding road (sorry, pun intended) we stopped for breathtaking views of Waimea Canyon which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The 800′ Waipo’o Falls and then up to the Kalalau lookout overlooking the Na Pali coast which was the end of the road.

Wendy displayed an unusual case of the heebie-jeebies as we climbed up the canyon road. The combination of having nothing but a sheer drop off outside her car window and not being in control of the car tested her nerve a good part of the ascent. Nevertheless, we loved the views, the exploration, and the adventure of it.

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Old Town Hanapepe has a nice little art district.

We descended back the canyon road and stopped for a stroll in the old downtown market area of Hanapepe which boasts a number of art galleries. We wandered in and out of the shops. There was some beautiful artwork and photography and it was a quaint little area. They have an “art stroll” every Friday evening. We wished we’d have known about it last week.

We made our way back to the room. Becky, Court and Lydia were off on an adventure of their own. Wendy and I made a light lunch and got cleaned up. We are all going out to eat this evening to celebrate our last night on the island.

We strolled down the ocean walk to Sam’s Ocean View for Happy Hour. We were welcomed back by our friends behind the bar and enjoyed some great conversation as we peered out at the surf and the motley cast of characters who walked past. We will truly miss Sam’s, and will always have fond memories of the place. It was sad to say good bye. We walked back to the resort where the rest of the crew were ready for dinner.

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We drove to Lihue and dined at a nice Italian restaurant called Kauai Pasta. It was an enjoyable meal, though the room was amazingly loud (hard for me). It was a great way to end our time together with the Oakes clan. Tomorrow, it’s time to start the journey home.

Kauai Day 1
Kauai Day 2
Kauai Day 3
Kauai Day 4
Kauai Day 5
Kauai Days 6 & 7
Kauai Day 8

Kauai: Day 8

Tom, my friend, you are a man of routines.
– Sam Duregger

I know. Put in me in one place for a week and my life will settle into a routine. It’s just the way I am.

So, Wendy and I woke to watch the sunrise (see video above) and then made our daily pilgrimage to Java Kai coffee for a little Java, a chocolate chip muffin, and a perusal of the Wall Street Journal. We read about and discussed the sadness of the events in Charlotte, NC and then walked back to the resort. We walked to the pool and each had a 15 minute massage. The whole crew of us then climbed into the car and drove north to enjoy a few hours at Anini Beach on the north short of Kauai.

We waded in the surf, bathed in the sun, and enjoyed a few hours of relaxation together. On our way back to Kapa’a we stopped at a burger joint we’d read good things about. Duane’s Ono Char-Burger was an old fashioned burger stand on Kauai. We ordered burgers, fries, and chocolate shakes. The food was as good as advertised and we enjoyed filling ourselves.

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After returning to the resort, Wendy and I headed up to the ABC store for supplies. After depositing them in the fridge we walked up the ocean path to Sam’s Ocean View for a happy hour drink (or two). We returned to the room, showered, and settled in for a quiet evening with the family.

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I asked for a “Long Island” and our amazing bartender suggested a “Long Beach” (Long Island ice tea, just substitute Cranberry Juice for the cola … and the fresh Star Fruit doesn’t hurt). Lovely.

 

Kauai Day 1
Kauai Day 2
Kauai Day 3
Kauai Day 4
Kauai Day 5
Kauai Days 6 & 7 

Kauai: Days 6 & 7

Our Kauai vacation fell into a gentle, anti-climactic routine on days 6 and 7 (Tuesday and Wednesday). Each morning began with the requisite viewing of the rising sun. Wendy and I then walked to Java Kai in Kapa’a for coffee and a reading of the events back on the mainland. I’ve fallen in love with Java Kai, and bought a diner mug as my trinket momento of our time in Kauai.

Wendy and I then returned to the room to get a little work done before heading to the pool here at the resort to read, sun, and take a dip in the pool. Afternoons were spent reading on the patio while sipping cool beverages and listening to the surf. We fed the zebra doves, listened to the Cubs beat the Reds, and nodded off on occasion or cuddled in bed with Lydia.

On Tuesday evening we enjoyed a light meal togehter and on Wednesday evening Wendy and I watched Lydia while Court and Becky enjoyed a much deserved date night together.

Our nights here in Kauai have generally ended fairly early. Between 9:30 and 10:30 we’re usually in bed reading as the sound of the surf sings its incessant lullaby outside our bedroom window.

Kauai Day 1
Kauai Day 2
Kauai Day 3
Kauai Day 4
Kauai Day 5

Kauai: Day 5

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Every morning of our time in Kauai has begun around 6:00 a.m. I get up, put the coffee on, and then we walk out the patio to watch the sunrise. The sunrise is a daily event here. People line the ocean path and the various patios and balconies to watch God paint a new sunrise. There are always a lot of cameras. It is different every morning. Cloud formations change. The hues of pink, gold, orange and red are mixed differently against the backdrop of blue. It’s a wonderfully peaceful way to start the day.

The next few hours after sunrise are generally lazy. Drink coffee, have a bite to eat, and ease into the day. This morning Wendy and I ended up back in our bed just lying around. Lydia came in and climbed into bed with us. It was fun cuddling and playing with her.

On our first day in Kauai we had attended an orientation here at the resort in which different tourist vendors described things that you can do. They also held a raffle. Becky and Court won a two-for-one deal on a plantation train ride and walking tour and gifted it to Wendy and me. It happened to be the same plantation where we had eaten brunch on Sunday morning. So, the five of us returned to the Kilohana plantation on Monday morning.

At one time the sugar can plantation consumed some 40,000 acres of the area, but now takes up a very small foot-print. While sugar cane is still grown there, it is mostly a large orchard in which many varieties of fresh fruit are grown, along with some small barnyard animals for tourists to feed as part of the train tour.

The figure eight train route took us along side the orchards as our guide described the various varieties of fruits and herbs that are grown on the grounds. We stopped about half-way through to feed the animals. Wendy and I kind of stood back and watched. When you grow up in Iowa, the experience of feeding a goat, chickens and pigs is not a novel concept.

At that point our tour guide, Josh, met those of us who had signed up for the walking tour. He led us down into a deep valley on the back side of the property that had become a tropical canopy supporting a large variety of native plants. Josh took us down the narrow dirt trail, stopping to point out various exotic looking plants.

One of the cooler plants Josh introduced us to was the Hila Hila plant, which in Hawaiian means “bashful.” When you touch it, the plant closes up in an instant. We had a lot of fun finding the plant on the ground and then making it close-up. Josh also shared the homeopathic remedies that different plants were used for and would regularly reach out, pull a leaf off a plant and eat it as he described what it tasted like. He would also tell us what plants not to eat, like the one that was like Habanero pepper on steroids, which his friend once tried and spent two days in the hospital.

At the bottom of the valley was a stream by which we saw a giant mango tree that was 150 years old as well as a large banyan tree. We then made our way back up the valley. They fed us a sack lunch under a canopy while we let the regular mid-day rain shower pass over us. Desert was a fresh pineapple that Josh cut up and served to us. Wow. Talk about sweet. Josh was a native of the island and, as we ate lunch, he shared about growing up on Kauai, answered questions about Hawaiian culture and history, and kept us entertained with stories.

After lunch Josh led us into the orchards where he pointed out different exotic fruits they grow, as well as some of the regular. We got to pick fruit right off the trees and taste it. The train picked us up at the orchard and took us back to the station. We stopped at the sweet shop for a treat before heading back to the resort.

Everyone was pretty tuckered out, so we took naps in the afternoon. After getting up from our nap, Wendy and I decided to walk up the beach to a local restaurant and watering hole called Sam’s Ocean View. Our concierge had given us a 2-for-1 happy hour drink special coupon, so we decided to check it out. The restaurant is a house on the beach, but the ocean-side of the house has two giant garage doors that open so that the entire side of the house opens onto the beach and the incoming surf.

 

Wendy and I enjoyed a happy hour drink and made friends with the bartender who was absolutely fabulous. A local musician set up to play live music and I thought I recognized him as the guy playing at the Hanalei Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I asked him, and I was right. He played solo guitar and a mix of coffee-house standards. Wendy and I would have joyfully had dinner there and stayed all night. Our bartender told us they were closed every Tuesday and Wednesday but we promised to go back for a visit (or two) before we leave the island.

We walked back to the room. Dinner was homemade pizza while we watched a late replay of Monday Night Football. We enjoyed playing with Lydia and chatting before heading to bed.

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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