As for Me and My Family …

map of Joshua's invasion into the promised land

I have been a pacifist for as long as I can remember.  I understand the use of force is sometimes necessary in order to protect, but an offensive strategy of violence and destruction seems so … well, I was going to say, un-god-like … but that’s exactly the problem I have with this first testament conquering of Canaan.  God is the leader of a battle that destroys people, families, cities, farms.  There are a great many parts of scripture that I find offensive to my own set of values.  This chapter is one of them.  When I look at the map of “The Conquest of Canaan” (above), I see it like a football play book*, only, in the case of this war, “winning” meant genocide — the annihilation of whole people groups.

I can enjoy good strategy, and rooting for my team, especially in a TV show like “Game of Thrones.”  But in these chapters of Joshua, God seems so … so male, so violent, so uncompromising, so cruel.

This is the God that wins. I get that.  This is the God of promises-kept.  This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As Christians, this is our story.  We are still in the early stages of relationship of God and God’s people.  It’s a time of building trust, and loyalty, and love.  And the battles of Jericho and the other cities have been going on for millennia.  The hate, the violence, the entitlement … it goes on and on and on and on.

We’ll see lots of sordid stories as we read together.  There are many of characters we may wish weren’t in the Bible at all … but they are.  They are a part of who we are.

My own great grandparents told me stories of our life in Germany.  After doing some family tree work, I know that my ancestors were Jewish and Lutheran and Catholic.  I know the shame of having a history we may not want to embrace.  There is no greater icon of evil than Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.  My mother told stories of how she was instructed to tell the people in school she was “Scandinavian” because she had blond hair and blue eyes.  “DO NOT let anyone know you are German.”  Yet, my great grandmother would tell me stories of the children running down the castle hill in

The ruins of Weinsberg Castle in Würtemberg, Germany

The ruins of Weinsberg Castle in Würtemberg, Germany

Weinsberg, Germany, as a child, laughing and playing, a re-living the battles of yesteryears.  My family history includes one of the worst battles of the German Peasants’ War … a battle Martin Luther riled against.  Growing up German Lutheran, I revered Luther.  And as a seminary student, I found great hope in the works of Bonhoeffer and Niebuhr and Tillich … all great German theologians.  I guess all of our family/faith histories are filled with good and bad and all the stuff in between.

This story of Joshua taking the Israelites into battle throughout the region of Canaan is as formational for the Hebrew people as the story of Martin Luther was for my family, Columbus is for Americans, or the Alamo is for Texans.  It shapes us, our values, our worldview.  This stories, these battles, is a defining moment for the people of Israel.  This is the fulfillment of what they had been promised generations before.  This is God being with them.  And the conclusion is a reaffirmation, a re-choosing of God …

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

So, we look at our stories and continually ask, through the lens of Christ, through the lens of history … what does this say about the God who we choose and who has chosen us?  and what does the story say about us and our relationship with God?  For me, the take-away for my faith this week, is this “choosing” of God even when it involves things we don’t like, battles that scare us, wandering in the middle of nowhere, not understanding the reason for pain and suffering … in all of that, we, like Joshua can “Be Strong and Courageous” as we choose to serve Christ.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

As we struggle to be obedient to the hope of Christ, the love of God, the healing of the Spirit in the midst of our own battles of life … we can remain strong, bold, and confident that God’s way is the path of good, of graciousness, of resurrection, and of life.

 *as Dwayne points out to me, I have no idea what a football playbook looks like.

Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jericho?

Battle of JerichoAs we were going over this week’s story today during the education hour, I was suddenly struck by the similarity between the fall of Jericho and the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. In both cases ,the cities were slated for complete destruction by God. In fact, not JUST destruction. Joshua declares that anyone who even attempts to rebuild Jericho will be cursed! As far as I know, no other city was so singled out for eternal oblivion when the Israelites conquered Canaan.

But it’s not just a matter of the devastation.

In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities are to be wiped from the Earth, along with all the inhabitants, except for Lot and his family. Jericho was to be burned to the ground, except for Rahab and her family. Lot was visited by two strangers, and Lot showed them hospitality, even to the point of putting himself and his family in danger. Rahab welcomed the two spies from Israel into her house, even hiding them from the authorities in Jericho.

Of course, it’s not identical. Nobody gets turned into a pillar of salt in Jericho, and Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t besieged by any army, but I still find the parallels interesting. I wonder what was the sin of the people of Jericho that was so great, it warranted the same sort of treatment as Sodom and Gomorrah. I know that the “standard” explanation for the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah was the homosexuality of the residents there, but there is a counter argument that it was the violence and lack of hospitality that was actually the sin illustrated by the story. As far as I know, there is no mention in the Bible of the exact reason why Jericho was to be eliminated so completely. I wonder if it wasn’t the hostility of the city, in opposition to the hospitality of Rahab.

No real point to this. Just something I was wondering about. Any thoughts?

Running around in circles

This week opens with what I think is one of theSoldiers running in a circle more bizarre stories in the Bible. The first city the Israelites are to conquer is Jericho. But rather than attack head on, or try to sneak in via some ruse, God instructs Joshua to have the army hold a parade! They are to march around the city once each day, blowing the trumpets but making no other sound, and then return to camp. Then they are to repeat this procedure five more times. Then, on the seventh day, they get to vary it, marching around seven times, and then finally shouting, which will bring down the walls so they can all rush in at once and destroy the city.

To me, these sound like ludicrous instructions! I can understand that the marching around might confuse and dishearten the defenders, but why would the walls care about that? Why would God ask them to do something so seemingly pointless? After all, if God were going to destroy the wall, I don’t think he needed the army’s help to do it. Was this just another test, to see if the Israelites were willing to listen to God’s instructions? Was it something more practical, like acting as a distraction while “inside men” weakened the wall? What was the point?

I don’t have any answers. I’m just asking the question.

Assignment 7 … The Battle Begins

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This week we’ll be reading the story of Joshua.  That’s Chapter 7: The Battle Begins.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the references are: Joshua 1-2; 6; 8; 10-11; 23-24.

Look for this week’s reflection on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.

Buyer’s Remorse

Buyer's RemorseBuyer’s remorse is a common ailment most of us experience. We lay out a large sum of money, or invest a lot of time or other resources. Then, when we get our “prize” we often immediately feel a sense of regret. Why oh why did I waste all that (money, time, whatever) for THIS? Sometimes that feeling only lasts a short while — other times, it sticks with us for a long time.

It seems to me that the Israelites this week are feeling buyer’s remorse when it comes to God, Moses, and the promised land. At every turn, they seem to be saying how much better off they were back in Egypt. Better food. More secure lives. After all, life as a slave wasn’t all that bad, was it? At least they knew where their next meal was coming from, and where they’d be sleeping that night. Sometimes, the buyer’s remorse is so strong, they decide that they want to “take it back” and go back to being slaves in Egypt. But, of course, that’s not an option. Some things can’t be returned.

I know that if I were one of the Israelites, I’d probably be reacting in a similar way. I like my routine and my daily creature comforts — I wouldn’t want to leave that all behind for a vague promise of something better in the future, at least not once I was no longer under the immediate threat of the whips of the slave drivers. It’s easy to say that the Israelites were just stubborn and ungrateful for all that God had done for them, but I think there’s more of that in all of us than we’d like to admit.

But I don’t think that the Israelites were the only ones showing signs of buyer’s remorse!

Moses expresses his frustration on more than one occasion, He even says to God, essentially “Kill me now.” He’s got the burden of leading this herd of people who make a donkey seem cooperative by comparison. No wonder if he regrets ever turning aside to look at that burning bush!

And then there’s God himself. In several instances, God is ready to wipe them all out, and start over again with just Moses. Moses has to talk God down. To persuade God, for instance, that killing them all off wouldn’t look good to the neighbors. At least, that’s the way the text reads. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that image of God. A God who regrets choosing God’s people. Who regrets saving them.

So, what do you think? Was there “buyer’s remorse’ going on? What are the consequences of that remorse by the various parties? And does that have ANYTHING to do with our lives today?

Between

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I was talking to a church member this week who shared with me how angry he was about the amount of time that passed between pastors in his congregation. Almost a year, just to get an interim pastor! In hindsight, though, he shared that God must’ve known the value of the time between. It was in that between time that the congregation grew to be ready and eager for the work they will do with their new long–term temporary pastor (how’s that for an oxymoron?) There’s a saying in pastoral transitions — “you can’t say hello, until you’ve said goodbye.”

Close to a year ago my father asked to bring his new “woman friend” to Thanksgiving dinner. I thank God for her words of wisdom, “it’s too soon.” Only Dad can determine the rightness of timing in his relationship, but for me, she was right; it was too soon. I hadn’t yet grieved the death of my mother. I was still saying goodbye. I told him, “I don’t have room in my heart yet to welcome someone new into my life.” Now, nearly a year later, I am much more ready to say hello.

The time between times and the space between spaces … that’s what the Israelite’s wandering was. And just like all of our transition times, it was a time of moaning and groaning. Just read the statuses of Facebook users after a new software update … We don’t like transition. A good leader of change knows this … that we need time and space to adjust … that there are some are early adopters and others who are slow to warm up.

Maybe God knew that the people of Israel weren’t really ready to move into the promised land when the spies came back with words of pessimism … with a desire to go back and a fear of going forward. Or maybe he was just mad that he had done so much for these people, and they didn’t appreciate his generosity. Either way, the Israelites were in the “liminal” time and space … the time between what they were and what they’d become, the space between where they’d been and where they’re going. One spiritual director described that liminality as the door jam … no longer in the living room, but not yet in the bedroom … on the edge. Another speaker said it’s like the summer between High School and college … looking forward to what’s coming, but yearning for what was.

Neither the Israelites nor God were happy in this desert place. It was a time of complaining. A time of dis-comfort and dis-ease. It was not life as they knew it. We see God and Moses wrestling with what to do next. Moses argues with God, and persuades God to forgive and save the people. It’s a time in which the relationship between God and his people is forged stronger. The “stiff-necked” people of Israel are “broken” and re-shaped by God during this time in the desert. The people are wandering, but not without purpose. They are, as they will be time and time again, “waiting on the Lord.” Their will must yield to God’s will; they must not only be open to, but trust God’s leadership.

It’s only after the memory of Egypt becomes history that the people are ready to move into the new land, to trust in the Lord in battle, to follow his commands and be obedient to him. A generation passes; everyone who had experienced life as an adult in Egypt died before God senses they are ready. And, we are reminded, God never abandoned them — not in Egypt, not in the desert. God was with them, and God provided for them … They weren’t comfortable, but their needs were met … They didn’t have bread and wine, but the soles of their sandals never wore out. Gods love for them will never wear out, no matter how stiff-necked they are. They had said goodbye to Egypt more than forty years ago, but they weren’t ready to say hello to the land of milk and honey until they had spent this time in the space between.

Assignment 6 … Wandering

assignment_iconThis week we’ll be reading the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert.  That’s Chapter 6: Wandering.  For those reading along in your own Bible, the references are: Numbers 10-14; 20-21; 25; 27; Deuteronomy 1-2; 4; 6; 8-9; 29-32; 34.

Look for this week’s reflection on Monday Morning.  In the meantime, make comments or ask questions here.  Or on the facebook group page, or on Twitter using the hashtag #apcthestory.