Shocking Events Then and Now

“In those days, when there was no king in Israel….”
Judges 19:1a (NRSV)

The story in today’s chapter is one of those really challenging ones. It’s hard for a 21st century reader to wrap our heads around the every day realities of life in Judea 3,000 years ago. Life was brutal.  Life expectancy was short. Societal systems were infantile in comparison to the present. And still, there are important themes the author is trying communicate.

The past two chapters have begun with the phrase “In those days, when there was no king in Israel….” That’s not random comment. It speaks directly to why this story is being told. This period of the Judges was one in which there was no system of strong central leadership. The further we get into this period of time, the more the people began to clamor for Israel to have a king of their own. The story of that political transition is told in the the book of Samuel.

The shocking and violent story of the Levite and the gang-raped woman became an event that sparked societal upheaval and unrest. In the same way that events in Ferguson, MO sparked intense societal reaction over the past year and a half, so the events of today’s chapter will be like the pebble that unleashes an avalanche.

The author knows that this is shocking, gut wrenching reading. It still shocks us today to imagine the brutal events as we read. That was the point of telling this story. “Do you see how bad things had gotten?” the story asks us. “Do you understand how evil and violent we become when lawlessness reigns?”

I find myself pulled in two different directions as I ponder the story in today’s chapter. I’m grateful to live in a time and society that is, by comparison, far better than the one described in Judges. I live in a place where law and order offer the opportunity to live a long, full life in relative peace and safety.

As the same time, the shocking events described and the societal firestorm it sparks are ancient reminders to me of very current realities. The more things change the more they stay the same. As “advanced” as our society has evolved, we continue to deal with core human problems of hatred, rage, prejudice, violence, sexual violence,  misogyny, gang mentality, greed, and et cetera, and et cetera. Events similar to those we read about today were front page news from India just a short time ago.

The people in the book of Judges would grow to call for a king to make things better. People today are calling for a new president to make things better. Strong leadership can make things better for society, but it can’t change the human condition that lies at the very core of the societal problems. For that, I need a Savior and the transformation of heart, spirit and life that happens in relationship with Him.

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Proximity

There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram.
Judges 18:28 (NRSV)

Wendy and I have been in a new phase of life the past few years. I’ll call it the proto-empty nest. The girls have been off living in different places, traveling hither and thither, and establishing their own independent lives. There is still, however, the safety net of home within proximity. Help is still, relatively speaking, a phone call away. I may not be close enough to just hop over and help with flat tire in another state or country, but advice, tech support, and 24 hour concierge service is only a phone call away. If things get in a nasty bind, you can always go home to revive, regroup, and relaunch.

In today’s chapter a little community of Sidonians were living in the land of Canaan. The tribe of Dan besieged the city and were victorious. The victory was, in part, due to the fact that the Sidonian villagers were not within proximity of help from their own people. When the “fit hit the shan” (as my dad was fond of saying), they had no safety net or support network to deliver them in their hour of need.

That got me thinking this morning about my own willful choices along life’s journey. It’s one thing to willfully choose to strike out on your own path and go your own way. Rebellion, running away, and going your own way are choices each one of us can make. It’s quite another thing when you so distance yourself from your support network as to put yourself at risk.

 

The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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You’re Right, You’re Right…

After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.
Judges 16:4 (NRSV)

There’s a great running gag in the classic romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. Sally’s friend, played by Carrie Fisher [Star Wars tie in!], is in a long term affair with a married man. She continues to complain that he’s never going to leave his wife for her. Her friends always roll their eyes and agree. She always ends with, “You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right.” It’s one of those lines that is regularly used in our house when addressing patterns of behavior that don’t change.

By the time we get to today’s chapter, Samson should recognize that his lust for women has been nothing but trouble. His first engagement ended in bloodshed and his fiance getting burned alive with her father. Sleeping with a prostitute ended up almost getting him killed in ambush. Now Delilah is clearly conniving the big man, and he doesn’t seem to see it. Samson! Dude! Your choice in chicks always ends badly.

You’re right. You’re right. I know you’re right,” he says as he walks into the brothel.

Today I’m thinking about those patterns of behavior that always seem to end up with me in a bad place. It could be in a bad life situation, an emotionally bad place, a physically unhealthy place, or a relationally sticky place. Those patterns in which my conscience, Holy Spirit, or a combination of both whisper to my spirit, “Dude, something’s got to change.”

I can either mutter, “You’re right. You’re right, I know you’re right” before continuing in old patterns, or I can choose to address those problem areas and break the cycle.

It’s almost New Year’s. I’m just sayin’.

Top Five Favorite Christmas Carols

Christmas is almost here! And while we are all inundated with Christmas music to the point of going postal on the shopping mall Santa, there are a few Christmas tunes never seem to get old for me. For Top Five Tuesday (one day late), here are my Top Five favorite Christmas carols….

  1. O Come, O Come Emmanuel. It’s not exactly a chart topper on your local mall’s holiday playlist, but I love the moody minor key, and the ancient mystery of the prophetic. It’s the storyteller in me.

2.   The Christmas Song. No one does it like Nat. Classic.

3.   O Holy Night. It gives me chills.

4.   Sleigh Ride. Okay. It just makes me happy. Clip-clop.

5.   Hallelujah Chorus. Tears. Joy. Truth.

Sing on! Merry Christmas!

featured photo by chatterstone via Flickr

Samson’s Ends and Means

Samson said to them, “This time, when I do mischief to the Philistines, I will be without blame.”
Judges 15:3 (NRSV)

So… I get that Samson was an ancient John Rambo with his long hair and lethal jawbone. But, I couldn’t help noticing this morning the pattern of events that lead to his most famous homicidal slaughter…

  • Samson chooses to betroth a Philistine girl, then threatens to impoverish and humiliate his fiance’s with a silly riddle which causes…
  • The Philistines to threaten the fiance with bodily harm if she doesn’t worm the answer out of Samson which causes…
  • Samson to go on a homicidal rampage, killing his bride’s own people and rejecting her which causes…
  • Samson’s father to give his betrothed to the best man as a wife, which causes…
  • Samson to take his anger out on the Philistines (not his father, or best man) by torching their fields which would take food away from their families and ruin their livelihood, which causes…
  • The Philistines to burn Samson’s betrothed and her father alive, which causes…
  • Samson to swear revenge on the Philistines for burning the bride that he rejected and left standing at the altar, which causes…
  • The Philistines to muster an army and march on Judah, which causes…
  • The men of Judah to hand him over to the Philistines, which causes…
  • Samson to go off on an even bigger homicidal rage with a jawbone.

We often hold Samson up to our children as a hero for his strength and violent victory. The story is actually a bit more messy than that. In fact, I find it quite tragic. The truth is that Samson started and exacerbated the chain of events that led to unnecessary human carnage, and the ends do not justify the means.

This morning I am reminded that God uses people despite their foolishness, but I don’t believe that this excuses the foolishness of those who God uses.

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The Big Christmas

I grew up in a middle class family in Des Moines with my parents and three siblings. It was a great childhood, and my folks provided for our every need. At the same time, there were not a lot of extras in life.

As the youngest of the four, I was used to hand-me-downs. I got my big sib’s clothes, toys, books, and games. As much as I’d like to whine about this in retrospect, I don’t remember feeling cheated as a kid. This was simply the reality. I knew no different. Times were tough and you do the best you can with what you have.

There was a period of years in my childhood in which my parents decided that each Christmas they would do a little something extra for one of the kids. As the youngest, the fact that one of us got a little more than the others was not something I noticed. I must have been so enamored by my G.I. Joe with kung fu grip that I didn’t notice the extra presents in Jody’s pile.

Then it happened to be my year to get a little extra. I distinctly remember being shocked and amazed that everyone had unwrapped all their gifts but there were still more gifts for me! That was the year I got a train set and this, to me, was a genuine Christmas miracle. You see, we had this dog eared copy of the Sears Wish Book catalog that sat on the edge of the bath tub for bathroom reading. There were toys in the catalog that I knew from experience Santa might bring me. Then there were toys that I’d come to realize, in the economy of the North Pole, my good deeds could never afford. Train sets were definitely on the latter list.

Years later I still have fond memories of that special Christmas when there were a few extra presents under the tree for me. Besides the train set, I have no recollection what the gifts were. I’ve come to realize that the greatest gift that year was my parents making me feel loved in a special way. I unwrap that gift every year when my memories take me back to The Big Christmas.