Tag Archives: Community

Judges 12 – Including outsiders

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan opposite Ephraim. And it happened when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Say now, ‘Shibboleth.’” But he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it correctly. Then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. Thus there fell at that time 42,000 of Ephraim. – Judges 12:5-6 (NASB)

***

The Battle of Lawrence

When I was six years old my family moved within six blocks of Allen Field House on the campus of the University of Kansas. I never really had a chance of being anything but a rabid fan of the Kansas Jayhawks. You can tell a Kansas basketball fan from most other fans. There is a certain amount of pride, which borders on arrogance, which seeps into any discussion of college basketball. We know our history and take pride in the history of the Kansas basketball program. And we hate Missouri. It does not matter that Missouri has left the conference and we no longer play the program to the east, we still despise Missouri. For the historical roots of this rivalry take a moment to read about Quantrill’s raid and the burning of Lawrence.

In college sports we have devised a number of systems to make sure we can separate the strangers rooting for “our” team from the strangers rooting for “their” team. Kansas fans wear blue and red, Missouri fans wear yellow and black. Kansas fans rally around our Jayhawk mascot; Missouri fans rally around their tiger. Kansas fans chant “Rock Chalk” in the closing minutes each home victory; Missouri fans have little experience in celebrating the closing minutes of a home victory. We have developed systems to know who is on our side. Whenever I see a Kansas hat or shirt at the gas station or at work, I stop and make a positive comment to my fellow Jayhawk fan.

People are very good at spotting outsiders. There is something in our brains which cause us to make a nearly instantaneous decision that a person is “one of us” or “one of them”. This tendency is not limited to our college basketball affinities. In fact this tendency has a very dark side and has been a plague on humanity resulting in genocide, holocaust, enslavement, discrimination, and all sorts of evil.

Bronze by Jenny Downing

Our first instinct should not be to look for an outward sign to know if a new person is to be included or excluded. Rather, our first instinct should be to care for the stranger and meet their needs regardless of their affiliation. It does not matter if the stranger I meet is a part of a different group. The thing that matters is that we were both formed by our creator and placed on this earth under a divine mandate that we work with God to create a new and greater world. The strangers I meet are as fully known by God as my neighbors. My enemies are as loved by God as my family.

When I look at a Missouri fan, it is important that I first recognize that they are valued by God and they are worthy of my love, respect, and assistance. It does not matter if they say Shibboleth or Sibboleth; what matters is that I have an opportunity to reflect the light of Christ into their lives.

Application:

  • Write down all of the people you walked by today without acknowledging their humanity (take your time, you’ll be surprised how many there are).
  • Make a goal for one day each week, that on that day you will not let a person go by without acknowledging their value.
  • Reach out to an individual or group you would normally exclude and be a part of their lives for one evening.

Queries:

  • Who do I exclude?
  • Do my actions truly demonstrate that I believe all people are valuable and worthy of love, honor, and respect?
  • Do I actually help people? Do I only think about helping people? Do I even think about helping people?
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A close reading of A House Is a Home by Ben Harper

Entropy by Josh McMillan

Ben Harper was born in Pomona, California in 1969. His father was of African-American and Cherokee ancestry, his mother was of Russian-Lithuanian Jewish ancestry. Ben’s parents divorced in 1974 and he grew up with his mother and her parents. Ben’s grandparents’ owned a music store, The Folk Music Center and Museum, which was foundational to Ben’s development as a musician. Ben began his career in earnest in the early 1990s with the LP Pleasure and Pain and has since released a dozen albums.

His most recent album, Childhood Home, is a collection of duets sung with his mother, Ellen Harper. The Harper’s split the songwriting duties for the album; Ben penned 6 and Ellen the other four. The album seeks to speak to the good, bad, ugly and beautiful parts of home and family life. The lead track on the album, A House Is a Home, was written by Ben.

 

A House Is a Home written by Ben Harper, performed by Ben & Ellen Harper.

a house is a home even when it’s dark
even when the grass is overgrown in the yard
even when the dog is too old to bark
and when you’re sitting at the table trying not to starve

a house is a home
even when we’ve up and gone
even when you’re there alone
a house is a home

a house is a home even when there’s ghosts
even when you gotta run from the ones who love you most
screen door’s broken paint’s peeling from the wood
locals whisper when they gonna leave the neighborhood

a house is a home where the chores are never done
where you spend your whole life running to and from
and if the life that you live is not the life you choose
make your child a home and start anew

***

Old House by Singh

My grandparents’ house will always be a special home to me. The house I lived in when I was in elementary school will always be a special home to me. I have no idea who lives in these places now, or if these houses even still exist; but, the memories of those places will make them a home to me until the end of my days.

Rather than focusing on the nostalgia of the home, Harper focuses the first verse on the chaos that emerges when a house is no longer subject to the care that a home receives. The home that was once comforting is now filled with darkness, overgrown grass, and a dying dog. Rather than a place of plenty, this house has become a barren place, a place of want. There is no comfort in this house; yet it is still a home.

The second verse takes this idea further. No longer is the family merely struggling with want; now they are being persecuted. First by ghosts (perhaps memories of the glory days gone by), then by family and friends who once loved them, and finally by the neighbors’ gossip. What listener has not felt, or at the least imagined, a neighbor’s scornful looks and raised eyebrows at the rough edges of the house which the family has not been able to care for. The high weeds, the broken down cars, the old trash bags. Yet, even when persecuted, the house is still a place of refuge. The house is a home.

Aged by Nathaniel Zumbach

The third verse speaks to the rat race of life. The never ending line of dishes and laundry and chores. The mundane tasks that take up so much of your life that it seems there is nothing left with which you can pursue your real dreams. We are all trapped in the upkeep of our houses, of our homes, and none of us seems able to live the life we want. And so we have children, and so the cycle repeats.

The chorus comes in to emphasize the cyclical nature of the home. The house becomes a home for a time, then children grow up, parents grow old, grandparents die, and the house shutters itself up into a dark void until…the cycle repeats.

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Judges 10 – Sin is not individual

Idols - not for worshipThe LORD said to the sons of Israel, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines?…”Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The sons of Israel said to the LORD, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer. – Judges 10:11-16 (NASB)

***

Sin has horrible consequences that we all suffer. Too often I assume that I am only hurting myself with my sin; but, my sin affects my family, my friends, my church, and my community.

Sin has communal consequences. There is a reason that the Bible often speaks of the consequences of sin being a curse on an individual’s children and children’s children. It takes a long time for all of the consequences of sin to play out. It also takes a concerted effort on the part of those dealing with the consequences to break the cycle of sin.

real loss, 1991Every sin is a nuclear explosion scattering radioactive debris in all directions. Do not brush it off just because you see it as a small sin. You would not brush off the threat of a small nuclear bomb going off in your backyard. The consequences of sin, big or small, reverberate over space and time and affect everyone.

Everyday we have the opportunity to choose God or to choose some other god. There are a multitude of things that I can make the center of my life; but, when I put something other than God at the center of my life, I have fallen into sin and the consequences of that sin will ultimately hurt all those around me.

Application:

  • Choose right now to make God the center of your life for the rest of today.
  • Every morning consciously make the decision that God will be the center of your life that day.
  • Write down how your sings are negatively impacting those around you. Pick one person and work to correct the impact of your sin.

Queries:

  • What have you chosen as the center of your life?
  • How has the sin of others affected you? How has your sing affected others?
  • What sins can you actively work toward correcting?
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Judges 3 – Ehud the Left Handed Judge

But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. 20 Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 22 The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. 24 When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” 25 They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead. 26 Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. – Judges 3:15-26 (NASB)

When I have led youth groups I tell this story at Halloween; teenage boys love it.

There are some interesting things going on in this story. Ehud is the second judge which God raises up in an effort to bring the Israelites back to God. This is the beginning of the running motif in Judges by which Israel does evil, bad things happen to Israel, Israel cries out to God, God raises up a Judge to deliver Israel, Israel repents, the judge dies, Israel does evil, rinse and repeat.

A secondary motif is that each judge is flawed in someway. Ehud’s flaw is relatively minor, he is left-handed; however, the flaws of the Judges become progressively more severe. Why is left-handedness a flaw? Two reasons. First Ehud fails to live up to his family name as Benjamite means “son of my right [hand]”. The second reason is that the left hand was commonly the “impure” hand as it was commonly used for bodily functions. Really this whole story is layer upon layer of bathroom-humor (which is, again, why teenage boys like it). However, being left-handed was one of the reasons why Ehud was able to smuggle a weapon in to the King’s private room.

My grandmother was left-handed. I heard her tell stories of how, when she was growing up, adults tried to force her to be right handed. They would tie her left hand down and do all kinds of awful things. How many times was Ehud rejected by his family or tribe? How many times was he passed over because he was different or flawed? Yet, God used Ehud’s flaws and differences to deliver Israel from the Moabites.

There are people in your church, your family, and your community that are considered unclean or flawed. They are looked down on and refused positions of leadership or honor. They are rejected, not because they are incapable; but, because they are considered to be unacceptable. They are the outcasts, they are other. God uses the outcasts and the other to deliver his people.

We are very bad at judging other people flaws. Often, a perceived flaw can be a remarkable strength. Ehud’s flaw delivered Israel, and he was only left handed. Imagine what the flaws of the people in your church are capable of delivering.

Application:

  • Create a penalty for when you catch yourself judging people who are different (e.g. a “swear-jar”).
  • Serve a group that is different from you every week for the next year.
  • Create an opportunity for someone who is less privileged than you.

Queries:

  • Who do I consider to be flawed, or “other”? Who do I not want to associate with?
  • How has God used my flaws to deliver the people around me?
  • Does it cause me internal discomfort to think that someone with one of the following labels could be a leader in my church: quadriplegic, veteran, mentally ill, woman, high school dropout, bi-polar, gay, drug addict, alcoholic, ethnic, wealthy, young, old, stutterer, liberal, autistic, conservative?
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Judges 1 – Church leadership

Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the LORD, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him. – Judges 1:1-3 (NASB)

Joshua’s Tomb – 2007

For the first time in over a generation Israel has found itself leaderless. Moses brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and led them as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses raised up Joshua as the leader who would bring the Israelites to the promised land. However, Joshua did not prepare a successor. Israel has gone from slave, to follower of Moses, to follower of Joshua; but, now there is no one to follow. So the Israelites do the smart thing; they ask God.

God instructs the Israelites to send Judah into the land first to drive the enemy out of the land’s promised to his tribe. Judah asks Simeon to go with him and promises to help Simeon clear his land as soon as Judah’s land is cleared. It is important to note, however, that God does not appoint a new leader to replace Joshua as Joshua had replaced Moses. It seems clear from this, and other passages, that God’s plan was for Israel to have no primary leader except for God. Of course there would be secondary leaders (priests, judges, and tribal chiefs); but, there would be no single human who would rule over all the peoples of Israel, only God.

The book of Judges is the story of how this plan failed. The story of how the Israelite people moved further and further away from God’s ideal and chose to follow their own desires.

It would be good for our churches today to look to the book of Judges as they are developing their organizational structure and selecting leaders. God’s ideal for Israel was that God be the primary leader who worked with a small group of secondary human leaders. These secondary human leaders took on differing roles and responsibilities. Some were accountable for military campaigns; some for religious ceremony; and some for maintaining civil matters. Is it possible that our churches should be structured in a similar manner?

As humans we seem to be drawn to pyramid shaped leadership structures in which one person is the ultimate authority for our organization. This structure is easy to understand and it allows us to put all the blame or praise on the one person at the top. If things are going well we reward that person; if things are going poorly, we find a new person.

As Christians, however, we may be called to develop a church without a single human perched at the top of our structure. I think all Christians would agree that God is our ultimate leader and authority; but, what if there was no single human leader at the top our church structures? What if there was a group of secondary leaders who each took responsibility for a different aspect of the church? Would that be a better way of organizing our church?

Regardless of whether there is a single leader or a group of leaders, whenever a church seeks to replace a leader the most important thing to do is to seek out God’s counsel. Time spent in prayer, seeking guidance, and inquiring about God’s opinion, is never a waste.

This is true whether a church is looking to replace a pastor, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, or a custodian. Every position within the church is a position of leadership and God cares about all leaders. We must always ask God, “Who is it you have prepared for this role?”

A church should never rush the replacement of a leader. A church should only move forward, once they have discerned a clear direction from God.

Application:

  • Pray for the leadership of your church.
  • Ask God to speak to the hearts and minds of the church regarding both the organizational structure, and the people to fit into the structure.
  • Take the time to be a blessing to the leaders in your church.

Queries:

  • What organizational structure is best for your church?
  • Do you take time to pray over who should be called to each leadership position (from custodian to elder)?
  • Is God calling you to a certain leadership role?
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This Week on the Ashram – 2nd Week of July 2014

It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.

The break between spring planting and summer harvesting is quickly coming to a close. Cucumbers are ready to be pickled, leeks are ready to be fried, celery is ready to frozen, tomatoes are almost ready to processed, and the sweet corn is almost ready to be enjoyed.

We spent a good chunk of this last week cleaning up the yard and garden. We have had beautiful, almost fall-like, weather which was perfect for mowing and trimming the lawns and paths. Some of the corners had grown some fairly tall weeds, so it was good to knock those down with the weed eater. I also took the time to tie up the first year grape vines to encourage their upward growth.

Septoria leaf spot

This has been a horrible year for Septoria Leaf Spot on our tomatoes. I usually try to run a garden totally free of all sprays and fungicides. That was not going to work this year if I wanted to have any sort of tomato crop. I have been spraying the tomatoes with two organic fungicides. The first is a microbial fungicide called Serenade. The second is a generic organic copper fungicide. The cool temperatures and low humidity of the last week seem to have also helped control the Septoria, so I hope to have a good, but not great, tomato crop.

I think the lesson for next year is to utilize some resistant hybrid varieties of tomatoes to help slow the spread of disease, rather than grow all heirloom tomatoes.

We finished harvesting the winter wheat crop. It was our first year with winter wheat, so the harvest involved a bit of trial and error. We tried pulling the wheat by hand, tried to cut the wheat with a corn knife, tried to use the weed eater (an epic failure), and tried hand clippers. Ultimately we used a hedge-trimmer to give the wheat field a haircut. We bundled several sheaves, but must of the wheat went into a giant tub to dry. We need to thresh the wheat over the next few weeks. That seems likely to be another adventure in experimentation.

After the wheat harvest, I took the flame weeder to the weeds left in the wheat field. I intend to till the field this weekend and plant our summer barley crop.

Looking forward, there are a number of things we need to get done in the next week:

  • Pickle our first batch of cucumbers.
  • Order more organic fungicide.
  • Install grape support wires on the trellis.
  • Plant the barley.
  • Harvest the carrot crop.
  • Prepare for canning season (jars, pots, food mill, etc.).
  • Weed and mound potatoes.
  • Clean the front and back porches.
  • Catchup on dishes and laundry.

Ghost & Shadow

 

On a final note, our outdoor cats, Joey and Emily, died last fall and this spring respectively. They were both great cats and will be missed. In their absence the bird, squirrel, and rabbit populations have exploded. So we now have two new farmhands in training. Shadow and Ghost are going to be great hunters…someday.

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