Your Choice

desolate land
Photo credit: <a href="">Eric Wüstenhagen</a>

Zechariah 7:8-14

God spoke to Zechariah, and said, “Here’s what I say: Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, foreigners, or poor folk. Don’t conspire to do what you know is wrong.”

But they refused to listen, shrugged their shoulders, and ignored what they heard. They barred the doors of their hearts so they wouldn’t have to hear what the law said, or what God inspired previous truth-tellers to say. So God was totally pissed.

“Just like when I called they wouldn’t respond, so when they called I wouldn’t respond,” God says. “And I blew them away all across the map, to places they’d never heard of.”

The land was left desolate. Nobody lived there and a wonderfully good place was ruined.

You can say that God is totally pissed, or you could call it karma, or you can simply recognize that the both the sustainability and desirability of a place and of a community is dependent on how it treats it’s most vulnerable:

…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

-from Hubert H. Humphrey’s last speech.

 A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.

-Mahatma Ghandi

More recently Jared Diamond wrote a fascinating study, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, in which he connects the collapse of civilizations to mistreatment of the land they inhabit.

It’s not that warning signs are lacking. Whether you interpret them as coming from God or as the natural feedback of the biosphere, it’s the refusal to take corrective action in favor of clinging to short-sighted advantages that leads to ruin.

The flip side, of course, is that by paying attention to the signs, and doing what you know is right, things can also be redeemed from desolation.

You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution. Your choice.

Pay it Forward

pay it forward
Image credit: Heather Bauer, Yellow Makes Me Happy

Deuteronomy 8:7-18

God is bringing you into a good place with flowing with streams, with artesian wells and aquifers springing up on hill and in dale, a place where staple crops, fruit vines and trees grow, a place where you will find delicacies like olives and honey in abundance, a place where you’ll never lack, and where you’ll find iron and copper. You’ll stuff yourselves full and thank God for the blessings of this good place.

But, make sure not to forget God or fail to follow God’s instructions, laws, and ways. When you’re stuffed full in the beautiful homes you will have settled down in, and when your livestock are multiplying, and when your money is accumulating, and when everything is going well, don’t think that you’ve come by it on your own and forget that it was God who brought you here from slavery in Egypt. Don’t forget who led you through the vastness of the desert wastes with its poisonous snakes and scorpions. Don’t forget that God made water flow from rocks and fed you all that time, through all that ordeal, and in the end did right by you. Don’t tell yourself that you’ve made all this by your own strength. But remember that your strength is on loan to you from God. It’s a loan guaranteed by a contract between God and your ancestors.

Moses must have been channeling Elizabeth Warren:

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Whether you read Moses’ version or Ms. Warren’s, the bottom line is you’re never as independent as you think you are. And your success depends on the hard work and contributions of a lot of people. Many of whom you don’t even know. Many of whom are long since dead. Your success and prosperity is on loan to you. This Thanksgiving Week, three things to do:

  1. Take some time to be grateful, and to tell someone – heck, tell everyone – how grateful you are to them.
  2. Pay it forward. Don’t just say something to someone. Do something for someone.
  3. Don’t squander the gifts and advantages you have. Do something significant with them. Something that will make the next generation realize how much they have and be thankful.

Maybe You Are a Victim, But…

pleading rocks
Photo credit: Patrick Tanguay

Isaiah 64:1-9

if only you would rip through the sky and show up
the mountains would erupt to see you,
the fire would kindle the deadwood
and the streams would boil.

If you would reveal your name to your enemies
the nations would cower before you,
like when you did all those awesome unexpected things,
when you came down and the mountains erupted.

From the beginning, no one has heard or seen
any god but you, who are on the side of the faithful.
You do right by those who willingly do right – those who acknowledge you.

But we screwed up and you got angry,
and when we got it wrong you went into hiding.
And now we are all contaminated,
so that even what we do right turns out a bloody mess.
We shrivel like leaves, and like wind our injustice blows us away.

No one is left to call you,
or even to try to reach you,
because you’re hiding,
and you’ve abandoned us to come what may.

And yet, God, you are our creator.
We are clay. You are the potter.
You handcrafted us.

Chill out, God!
Don’t hold our mistakes against us forever.
We’re your people. All of us.

Of all the gamut of human emotion, the feeling of abandonment must be up there among the worst. Betrayal followed by utter loneliness. Worse, when the abandonment is perpetrated by God.

Here, the community in exile in the memory of Isaiah pleads with God who, like a spoiled child, or a fickle lover, or an immature parent, is using withdrawal as punishment.

The prayer begins in reflection and ends in accusation: “Maybe we really did do something to deserve this. We’re not sure what it was, but we’ll admit to being wrong if only you’ll come out of hiding. But in the end, it’s God who needs to get over it. A God who made us ought to know that to err is human. Meanwhile, we’re just going to wallow in nostalgia for a past that never really was as good as we remember it.”

But, of course, God never does show up on demand when and where we want God to. And no amount of psychological game playing works to manipulate God the way we can sometimes manipulate one another. The game playing is, in fact, part of the mistake the people are continuing to make. They have all the right words to describe God: powerful, creator, awesome, unique. But still, they’re trying to use manipulation to get their way.

Perhaps, if they stopped blaming God for their situation and imploring God to get over it, they would find that God is not hiding, but waiting for them to stop hiding. Behind playing the victim.

I’m not saying that some people aren’t victims. Or that victims are to blame for what has happened to them. Or that people shouldn’t seek justice. But it’s one thing to be a victim and another entirely to allow being a victim to define who you are.