The Unimaginable

Today, I have the day off as a holiday offered to me by my employer to celebrate and remember Juneteenth. I honestly was not that familiar with the day, and had to look it up. It took a while for what this day was to sort of sink in, and when it did, I was crushed by the enormity of something I had missed for most of my life.

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.” – The beginning of General Order Number 3, read by Major General Gordon Granger at Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865.

I honestly have no emotional or mental frame of reference to help me imagine what it is like for an entire human population to live in a country with this heritage. Consider it for a moment: Their ancestors were brought to this country by force, and made to work as slaves. That’s where their “American Heritage” begins. And once freed, you would think that the nightmare was over, but it simply morphed into a continual, institutionalized system of abuse, right up until today, and it continues.

I have no words for that. I can’t imagine what it is like to grow up with that, live with that, raise children with this background. I simply can’t. All I can do is call out the demonic that drove such a heritage. It is a demonic power that drove people claiming a Jewish Savior to steal, kill, and destroy another fellow human population. And it continues.

In some ways, I perceive this power is not as strong as it was. In other ways, I perceive it is more insidious, and attempts to deceive both populations into stealing, killing, and destroying. What I can’t fathom is how a people so confident in their faith in Jesus could somehow wrap their heads and hearts around killing, stealing, and destroying people. It boggles my mind.

I would point out that this demonic drive was pervasive. It wasn’t just blacks brought from Africa, but the native peoples of North America as well. They have also been part of a continual, institutionalized system of abuse. And it doesn’t stop there. Oh, how I wish it would stop, but it doesn’t. I weep, my heart breaks, but it doesn’t stop there.

In the essay by Ronald Wells, “The War with Mexico” in The Wars of America, which he also edited, he quotes1 Gene M. Brack’s book, Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, as follows:

Over the years Mexicans had become increasingly aware that many Americans…looked upon Mexicans as inferior beings. This had frightening implications, for Americans had respect for neither the rights nor the culture of those whom they considered inferior. They had been merciless in their treatment of the Indian and had reduced blacks to a brutal form of servitude. Mexicans were perceptive enough to recognize that a similar fate threatened them should they fall under American domination.

Brack, Gene M. Mexico Views Manifest Destiny, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1975, pg 81

If this quote does not chill the blood of anyone considering themselves a white, Protestant, American, then I am left believing you remain under the demonic influence. And, I realize I have not substantiated my view that Manifest Destiny was, or is, a demonic influence. So, I will simply challenge you to consider the application of this pervasive American belief, and decide for yourself whether it is more stealing, killing, and destroying, or abundant life. I can’t see our application of it as anything other than stealing, killing, and destroying, the mark of the devil, according to my Master, Jesus (John 10:10).

I am left unable to imagine living and growing up with the heritage of blacks in America, Native Americans in America, or even Hispanics in America. Instead I’m left with my own heritage that created and institutionalized a system of destruction of these people, their culture, and their rights as fellow human beings.

Go back to the text of how General Order Number 3 begins. Did you notice how the second sentence begins:

This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

General Order Number 3

The idea was there. The concept of equality, freedom, and justice were perceived, but the application became limited by a competing perception of inferiority. I’m not sure how we got there, but it was not through the application of Scripture, regardless of what any historical interpreter may claim. Such a view of inferiority is entirely antithetical to the Christian Scriptures. What the Holy Spirit reveals through His Christian servants writing under His inspiration reads as follows:

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

Colossians 3:5-11 NASB (emphasis mine)

This is the reflection of the heart of our Savior, Creator, and Master. The King of all kings, Creator of the universe, He who died and rose again, says that there is no distinction. But we have made one, and we have brutally executed our selfish desires based on that distinction.

I don’t know what to say to blacks, Native Americans, or other peoples in America. I don’t know how to apologize to the Japanese Americans interned during World War II. I don’t know what I can do, other than confess the sins of my fathers, and do better myself. I don’t know what to tell these people as they fight for the rights and appreciation of their culture which has been denied them.

I do know what to tell the other Americans with the same heritage as myself: Repent! For starters, if what you read here does not make you weep for the sins of your fathers, then, again, I can only assume that the demonic influence that refuses to accept the clear charge from our Savior remains in you. Repent! Stop it! You cannot expect to escape the wrath of your Creator if you persist.

For many of us, the response to what I have written may be surprise. It was for me, as I have progressively come to understand my heritage. I had no clue. And that, too, causes me to weep. My ignorance furthered the problem, perhaps a little, but furthered it nonetheless. In my ignorance I remained part of the problem, not part of any sort of solution. I can’t remain that way any longer. The answer for myself is to learn the perspective of my Creator, and love my brothers and sisters, of any color, culture, or heritage.

Let us, as white Americans, repent, surprise or acceptance, either way, repent. Let us not be apathetic and ignorant any longer. In that way, we can finally begin to glorify our Savior, and see His creation as He sees it.

Quite a rant through this particular knothole, but I believe it is an important view. Feel free to post your own road to repentance, or, if you are from one of these peoples we have oppressed, I welcome your view. As I said, I can’t even hope to appreciate your view as completely as I would like to. But every word I hear and read from these perspectives helps me gain a little more clarity.

1 Wells, Ronald A. “The War With Mexico”, The Wars of America: Christian Views, Mercer University Press, Macon, GA 1991, page 75.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation


By Name Only

There are jokes we know so well, only the punchline is needed to get us laughing. They’re not that funny, honestly, it’s the memory of the laughter and fun they brought. And then there are those who had never heard the joke, but, often from peer pressure, laughed anyway. Over time, the joke was lost, but the punchline is remembered, and funny, but nobody can remember why. “Rectum? Dang near killed ’em!”, will usually bring a smile, but no one remembers the joke (although you can look it up).

In the same way, we can remember stories of characters simply by naming them. And yet, often, we can’t remember the story, only that the name is important for some reason. It’s like history: it happened, and we remember the names, but the details of what they did are fuzzy, and we can never remember the dates. Again, we can look it up if we like.

The writer of Hebrews, toward the end of the “Role Call of Faith” stops telling stories, and begins listing names. And it is supremely ironic to me that most of the names are from a book which most disciples of Jesus consider a collection of faithless mistakes of Israel.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 NASB)

Four of the six names are from the book of Judges. And of the Judges listed, the writer seems to have chosen the ones we consider the worst examples of faith. Gideon needed to test God three times, Barak wouldn’t go into battle without a woman present, Samson is simply famous for his mistakes, and few people remember Jephthah because he’s so embarrassing pastor’s don’t teach on him. And yet, there they are, considered paragons of faith to God, held up as examples to follow.

Is it possible that we’ve become so jaded by what we have been told about these men that we have missed the perspective of their Savior? Oh wait, you don’t think they were saved, you say? Samson and Jephthah clearly didn’t get it, and can’t possibly be saved?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:35-40 NASB

These were looking for a better resurrection. Why look forward to disaster? They were looking forward to the Savior, as we do. Yet, their names made the list. Maybe just their names, maybe not their stories, but I wish their stories were told. I want to know how the writer of Hebrews understands their stories. We are ashamed of them, and our Savior isn’t. That should tell us something. That should shout loudly to us. A man who sacrificed his only daughter to Yahweh made the list. How is that? Perhaps we miss something in their stories.

Are we missing something in other stories? What about the stories in the lives around us? Is it possible that we have become so judgmental that we consider common what our Savior has sanctified (Acts 10:15)? The context of Acts 10 should scream at us that we, as Gentiles, would have no part in the Kingdom unless those in the Kingdom followed whatever God deemed holy.

These listed here in this collection of failures were considered holy by our Savior. Maybe we should revisit their stories to discover what we missed. It seems the punchline isn’t enough, we need the whole joke to truly get it. And once we have a better grasp of our Creator’s perspective, perhaps we will understand those around us better as well.

Just a thought.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

“Bad Tactic” Faith

Be honest, how often have you considered the things you find in Scripture to be impractical for our modern world? Turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person, going the extra mile, and so on, all seem like they would cause you to fail today. Who really thinks the meek will inherit the world? They certainly won’t conquer it, which is what we consider valuable.

But even those are possible to believe, they have the potential to be successful, and there is value in kindness even for atheists. But what about when God asks you to do the stupid? “I know how we can take down the huge walls of Jericho, lets walk around them for 7 days!” Really? How about that sort of faith, how likely are we to adopt that level of belief in our Savior?

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace.

Hebrews 11:30-31 NASB

Consider for a moment the absurdity of the siege of Jericho. It really wasn’t a siege at all. The sons of Israel only encircled the city during the day, as they walked around it once. After that, they simply watched it (Joshua 5:13). So, while the city was “tightly shut”, anyone could conceivably make an escape. I’m not sure that was the point, but it could have been.

Clearly, the sons of Israel had no concept of siege tactics currently in vogue at the time. No ramps, no ladders, no siege weapons, nothing expected. The Egyptians had used “siege towers”, and it’s very possible the people of Israel would have seen those depicted on the walls of the cities they built. But they still didn’t even try to make any.

Yet, by faith the walls of Jericho fell down. And when they did, one of the people who lived in the wall was saved. By faith, part of the wall fell down, except that portion where Rahab lived. And she lived in faith, believing that saving the spies was good for her and her family. And it was. She became an ancestor of David and Jesus, a testimony of faith, and made the role call by name. A prostitute in the genealogy of Jesus? Yes, because of her faith.

So, our Creator uses the faith of those we would never consider to achieve greatness. And He uses tactics we would never imagine. People and methods we would reject become His favorites. Think about that. In some sense that’s you and I. In another sense, it’s the people you and I discount every day, those living in parks, under bridges, in mansions, or even next door.

Will you and I have the faith to be obedient to the foolish commands of our Savior? Will we be willing to risk being unpopular to do His will? Rahab risked more than unpopularity, she risked her life, twice, if you think about it. Noah built an ark impossible to hide. Moses wandered in from the desert to confront the king of Egypt, and Joshua walked around a city quietly for seven days.

What is our Savior asking you to do? What does our Creator want from you? Who have you possibly marginalized, someone our Savior desires to use in your life? Are you open to that? Are you willing to be obedient when it seems silly? Will you listen to the voice of your Master as He speaks through the unexpected person around you?

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

The Negotiator

It’s very easy to read the Hebrew Scriptures about characters from the Late Bronze Age, and be prejudiced about their intelligence and sophistication.  It’s one of the ways we read into a passage assumptions based on our own culture and practice.  The author of Judges, and Jephthah the judge, are two such people for whom I am guilty of prejudice.  But I’m learning…

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.  Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, “What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (Judges 11:11-12 NASB)

Jephthah is an outcast.  And those who cast him out brought him back to be their leader, all he had to do was defeat the “Sons of Ammon”.  The Sons of Ammon are like the Sons of Israel, in that they are descendants from Abraham’s family (actually Lot, Abraham’s nephew).  Because of this familial association, Yahweh has defined boundaries with Israel and how they interact with Ammon.

Where my prejudice begins is in my assumption that the people of the Late Bronze period in Canaan weren’t literate.  So far, we’ve run across two instances where that wasn’t true, one where even a youth can write, and Gideon can read it.  It’s not as uncommon a practice as I thought.  And now we have Jephthah, a rogue surrounding himself with vagabonds, who now recounts the specifics of the history of his people entering the land, and the relationship with Ammon.  That’s a lot of detail to remember.

From verses 15 through 27, Jephthah replies with a detailed history of why the King of Ammon is wrong to claim the land between the Arnon and the Jabbok, two prominent rivers feeding the Jordan Valley from the east.  This region wasn’t Ammonite, it was Amorite, and there is an important distinction.  While the Ammonites were “family”, the Amorites were not.  The Amorite king, Sihon, attacked Israel, and was defeated.  Israel took that region from this Amorite king.

The important things here are that 1) God had set apart Ammon as family, and Jephthah still honors that position of God, and 2) Jephthah remembers these details from 300 years of Israelite history.  He negotiates with Ammon because God wants Israel to treat them better than the Canaanites, and Jephthah does.  Some commentators will criticize Jephthah for being wordy, or sending so many messengers, or other details of his negotiation tactics, but they, too, are prejudiced.

The writer of Judges has an audience among the people of Judah’s kings, and it is they who need read this negotiation.  For whatever reason, this detail helps them understand better their relationship with Yahweh.  Jephthah is represented as faithful.  God honors him, and he’s honored among the people of Israel, right up through Hebrews 11, where he’s listed among those having lived by faith.

But to be that negotiator, Jephthah has to be able to read, write, and be educated about his heritage to a very high degree.  He didn’t find a book while cleaning the Temple in Jerusalem.  He didn’t discover a lost scroll, or find a scrap of some historical record in a jar.  Jephthah knew the story already.  He knew the history from hearing it or reading it.  And clearly, he knew it well.  He knew the details, the order of events, their significance, and from that, what God wanted him to do in this situation.

And therein lies the value of such study, searching Scripture, sifting through narratives and poetic lines and prose, all to learn what God would have us do in a given situation.  Like Jephthah, we study before we encounter the situation.  Then, when the situation arises, we’re already prepared.  We study, seeking the purpose and character of our Master, so we too will be able to act according to His character and desires.  We’ll know Him so well, we’ll know what He would do in a given situation.

But knowledge without experience leads to destruction.  We need to add to our study time in prayer.  We need to spend time listening to our Master, prayerfully seeking His face, so that we will be able to discern His Spirit from the other spiritual noise around us. Prayer and study combined into a daily practice opens us up to the presence of our Master.  Let’s be characterized by the mindset of Jesus.

What’s your view through your hole in the fence?