Mud Pies and Treasure

Richard Louv is a journalist who writes about nature. He can be rather convincing about getting outside. He explores the dangers of a sedentary indoor lifestyle. He takes readers into territory they may not think about on their own. Many have read Louv’s books. I suspect many have agreed with what he says about schedules and fresh air and things we take for granted. Yet I suspect many of them have not changed their lifestyles.

Michael Pollan writes about food. He discusses health of both body and the land. He can be rather convincing about eating differently. He explores the dangers of poor eating habits. He takes readers into territory that many do not think about on their own. Many have read Pollan’s books. I suspect many have agreed with much of what he says about food and nutrition. Yet I suspect many of them have not changed their ways with food.

I suspect this type of thing occurs all the time. Agreeing that health is important does not make one take steps to become healthy. Agreeing that practice makes perfect does not make one practice. Agreement does not always result in action. Thinking something is right does not cause us to behave differently. As convincing as Louv’s suggestions about changing lifestyle are, it is possible to love our current lifestyle of convenience more than his suggestions. As convincing as Pollan is about food, it is possible to love processed fatty foods more.

My interest is not really whether we watch television or eat sodium filled foods. I am more interested that many of us read the bible. I suspect many agree with what the bible has to say. I suspect we agree with loving God and loving our neighbor. I suspect many are pulled into the poetry and narratives and teaching we find there. I suspect many agree with the ideas about grace, forgiveness, generosity and sacrifice that are abundant. I suspect we are glad the bible takes us into territory to explore things we would never have thought about on our own. Yet I suspect that many have not changed their ways.

The danger is that we love our current appetites and lifestyle more than we love what God wants to give us. C.S. Lewis, in a sermon preached at Oxford one day, said this, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” The danger is that we love these things more than we love God.

The problem is we have already been discipled. Everyone is in the discipleship business and some are very good at it. The democrats, the republicans, Wall Street, and Madison Avenue are all after your allegiance. The fact is, every commercial is an attempt to make you a disciple. Advertisers do not give information about the products they sell; they spend their resources to appeal to our loves. There is no getting around it – the world wants your soul. Our allegiance says a lot about us. We are disciples of what we love. This is what Jesus meant when he said “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Discipleship is all about being attentive to and being intentional about what we love.

We sometimes try to make discipleship a cognitive exercise. We convince ourselves that enough knowledge will help us become who we ought to be. However, we are simply not a sum of what we know. We are not driven by information; we are driven by what we treasure. We like to tell ourselves we love the right things. We like to think we are immune to becoming disciples of the world. Perhaps we should check our closets and garages for evidence. We cannot avoid the idea we are driven by treasure. Acknowledging this is but the first step of beginning to change our lives and not just our ideas. Because to be a disciple of Jesus is to learn to love the right things.

Harper Lee as a Watchman

I suspect that some have purchased a copy of Go Set a Watchman on account of the controversies. Did Harper Lee really want to release this book to the public? Is Atticus really a racist? Undoubtedly it would have sold a number of copies without added hype. Most of us simply have a soft spot for the Finch family and Maycomb, Alabama or at least the way that Harper Lee is able to talk about these things.

For those of us who are treasure hunters, those who think it would be cool to unearth a time capsule – this is our lucky summer. History has fallen into our lap. A sixty year old treasure has been uncovered. Like archaeologists, we read this discovery and talk about its implications.

The reader should not forget that this book was written at about the time Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on a Montgomery bus. And was written prior the Civil Rights Act signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, prior to the Selma to Montgomery march where unarmed citizens were attacked on the day that has become known as “Bloody Sunday”, prior to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. This does not give permission for characters to behave any way they want but it does add some perspective to the story.

I find it interesting that Watchman was released during this summer where race and religion had already made their way to the forefront. Where the way things are in the south and the appropriateness of the confederate flag have been news items. Perhaps it is a testimony to Lee’s writing skill that prompts us to be asking the same questions sixty years later. Watchman reminds us that though we think we are evolving and developing in conscience, we are still much the same in the ways we talk about things and rationalize our opinions.

Many of us were not around when this book was written, yet Harper Lee was. I suspect she created the character Atticus as a realistic man of his time, as a southern gentleman. Nevertheless, while Mockingbird showed he can be noble, Watchman reminds us he is not perfect. I believe that puts him in a group with the rest of us.

Mockingbird and Watchman are both honest about the human condition. Both reveal the complexity that comes with being a part of this race. The point is carried home by narrative in the first book and through dialogue in the latter. Both intend to make the reader think. That some could refer to someone as a hero on one occasion and others refer to the same person as a racist on another occasion is evidence of human complexity.

With all the questions I have heard about the book, the one I have not heard is “What happened to Scout?” While I agree with the position of grown Jean Louise, I find myself wishing for young Scout. What happened to the girl we got to know in Mockingbird? The spunky girl who showed herself in the flashback scenes of Watchman? In fact, these are my favorite scenes. They are almost Mark Twain like and are reminiscent of Mockingbird and a reminder of Lee’s ability to make characters come to life. My favorite is when the children reenact a revival meeting just for the fun of it. Jem plays the evangelist, Scout is a baptismal candidate, and Dill the Holy Ghost. The scene ends with the evangelist showing up for dinner that evening, choosing to reprimand the children during the pre-meal prayer, and Atticus “on the back porch laughin!”

I have daughters and have always considered them to have a little bit of Scout in them. It would be disappointing if they one day returned to Maycomb acting like Jean Louise. We get a glimpse of the old Scout while the rumor was spreading that she and Hank had gone skinny dipping. But these instances are few in Watchman. Instead, the grown Jean Louise comes across to me as a complainer. I want her to stand up for what she believes the way she once stood up for herself with Jem and Dill.

We would not want to see Huck Finn return home and begin complaining about things he failed to notice as a child. We want Huck to remain clever and confident about what he thinks and not allow the opinions of others to cause him to act differently. Likewise, I want a Scout who is playful and feisty as she responds to what others do, no matter how wrong they may be. Of course, Scout may think that I am not taking her situation seriously enough.

For all the Jean Louise’s out there who are complaining about the book, we do well to remind ourselves that Mockingbird would not have occurred without Watchman. I rather enjoyed the book. It is easy to read, moves at a good pace, and will cause me to reread Mockingbird differently.

We will reread Mockingbird differently because Watchman does to us what it does to Scout. (The emotional intensity makes me wonder how biographical this may be). It makes us think about Atticus and Maycomb in one way before taking us into secret meetings where we learn its dirty prejudices. Is Mockingbird more palatable because it views issues of race from a safer distance? Does Watchman leave a bad taste with us because we find out how the residents really feel about one another?

I love the title. “Go set a watchman” comes from the King James Version of Isaiah 21.6. Part of me wishes there were more obvious references to this text given one summer Sunday morning by a Methodist preacher. Jean Louise gives the reference that matters. “I never thought to look into people’s hearts, I looked only in their faces… I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour on the hour. I need a watchman to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means… I need a watchman to go forth and proclaim to them all that twenty-six years is too long to play a joke on anybody.”  In recognizing the need for a lookout, i wonder if she is assigning herself the role as watchman for you and I?

Matthew: a Gospel of Treasures

Matthew invites us to participate in a hunt for treasure.  This is not separate from his emphasis on teaching.  Followers of Jesus find practical instruction and wisdom to live by as disciples.  Matthew contains the largest amount of teaching material and uses the word disciple more than any other Gospel.  This is even emphasized in the conclusion “make disciples… teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”  Perhaps Matthew wants us to know that the true treasure is the wisdom found in the teaching of Jesus.  Perhaps he wants us to think of making disciples as sharing treasure.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us to store up “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Although many may try to convince us that they have valuable treasure, it appears that all treasure is not equal.   Jesus thinks temporary things do not make good treasure.

Later, He says that “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  Then, after finding a pearl of great value, he tells us that “every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”  Later yet, he records Jesus saying, “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.”  It is safe to say that Jesus likes to talk about treasure.

Ben Witherington suggests that Matthew is like a scribe who has become a disciple and “brings out of his treasure things new and old.”  This may be evidenced by his desire to affirm traditional Jewish teaching, while at the same time; he also includes new eschatological teaching of Jesus.  Witherington says that Matthew “manages to balance an old and new portrait of the Messiah, with Jesus sitting for the portrait.”

Matthew mixes the teaching of Jesus with narratives that describe activities of Jesus.  These work together and remind us that the teaching must be lived out in the narrative stories of our lives.  Matthew insists that the everyday world that we live in cannot be separated from the teaching of Jesus.  Like explorers on an adventure, we enter the Gospel where the stories of life and the teaching of Jesus intersect with one another.  There we find treasure to live by.

Looking for What Matters

There is a passage in Matthew where Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a treasure.  A treasure so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it.  Liquidate your holdings.  Sell everything.  Do not let anything get in the way of this treasure.

Many of us are willing to admit that we are looking for something. Some of us may deny it. Some may not always look in the right places. Some may be looking but are not sure what we are looking for. But, in wiser moments, we all know it to be true. We are looking for treasure. Looking for the stuff that brings life, purpose, and meaning. Many things prevent us from finding what we are really looking for, (there is a lot of counterfeit treasure out there). Perhaps that is why the calendar keeps inviting us back into a journey during the season of Lent.

From Piper to Pirates: It’s All about Treasure

For one weekend, Coover Street looked like a flea market.  Walking down the street was like walking down an aisle at Wal-Mart.  People bought clothes, furniture, even food.  Although I do not spend much time at yard sales, I know what these people are after – treasure.

I can’t fault these people for I too am a treasure hunter.  I agree with Mark Buchanan that God wired us for this.  He claims that his inner child is like a “young Indiana Jones.”  From Easter egg hunts to life in outer space.  The Loch-Ness monster to a cure for cancer.  DNA patterns.  Bargain stock.  Genealogy.  Archeological digs.  Romantic chase.  Yard sales.  We love the thrill of the hunt.

In Pirates of the Caribbean:  The Curse of the Black Pearl we are reminded of the influence that treasure can have over us.  Captain Barbossa and his crew of miscrits are cursed for taking treasure that did not belong to them.  Captain Jack Sparrow seeks to captain the Black Pearl.  Will Turner desires a girl.  They are all seeking the same thing – treasure.  As Captain Jack Sparrow says at one point, “not all treasure is silver and gold mate.”

I step into the ocean, a wave crashes over me, and I take a step to keep my balance.  I feel something under my foot and pull up a pair of sunglasses.  Like a pirate, I wonder what else might be hidden on the ocean floor.

I prepare for a Sunday School lesson and Jesus keeps talking about treasure.  He reminds us that if our treasure can be damaged or stolen, it is not very good treasure.  He goes so far to suggest that birds and flowers may have a better handle on treasure than we do.  (They understand that food, drink, and dress are not very good treasure).  He insists that no one can serve both God and treasure.  And he reminds us that treasure is closely related to the heart.

From Jesus we learn that not all treasure is equal.  Some treasure is definitely to be preferred over other treasure.  Like the happiness it brings, some treasure is only present for a season.  If a treasure can be stolen or destroyed, can we really depend on it?  Jesus is telling us that the true value of treasure can be determined by its location – heaven or earth.  The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Another time Jesus tells us that all treasure is not obvious.  Not visible to everybody.  Yet, it is still worth seeking.  Worth giving up everything to get.  Compared to such treasure – nothing else matters.  Treasure itself is cause for joy.  John Piper responds by saying that we are able to measure the worth of treasure by what we are willing to give up in order to gain it.

It’s dangerous really, this seeking of treasure.  We can pillage, plunder, and purchase all we want and still want more.  Seeking can be more than distracting.  Seeking can become an obsession. It is not just characters in movies who are cursed for seeking ill-advised treasure.  Just like Barbossa’s pirates, it is possible to hunger, thirst, and desire – yet never be satisfied.

Though treasure may not be evil, it is certainly dangerous.  Jack Sparrow is right – not all treasure is silver and gold.  John Piper is right – you must be willing to give something up in order to gain treasure.  Jesus is right – true treasure is worth seeking.  In fact, it is worth giving up everything to get.

Job: Wisdom and Where to Find It

When we think of Job we often think about suffering.  Rightly so, the unfortunate character of this book suffers a great deal.  Yet, Job is not only about suffering.  In fact, a reading of chapter 28 suggests that suffering is just part of the scenery intended to assist us in a search for wisdom.

Chapter 28 starts by reporting that humans have been pretty good at finding treasure.  Silver, gold, iron, copper, sapphires… we have become adept at finding some pretty important items, but the question remains, where is wisdom?  Human beings have demonstrated skill at digging deep into the earth for precious minerals.  However, after we have explored the deepest parts of the universe, we still search for wisdom.

The question is asked in v.12 “But where can wisdom be found and where is the place of understanding?” and again in v.20 “where then does wisdom come from and where is the place of understanding?”  It is not a surprise to learn that wisdom is with God.  More specifically, while engaged in the work of creation, God did something with wisdom.  Only he knows the way to wisdom, and it cannot be found by digging or mining.

Job may be reluctant to answer this question with any certainty.  The point of chapter 28 is that God alone knows where wisdom is.  In the end, Job realizes that God knows more than we do.  He alone possesses the wisdom necessary to understand and we are at our best when we trust him and fear the Lord, the one who possesses this wisdom.

The chapter ends at 28.28 “behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”  I can’t help but remember how the story of Job began.  Back in the first chapter, Job is introduced to us as “fearing God, and turning away from evil” (1.1).  And later he is introduced to Satan as “fearing God and turning away from evil” (1.8).  We can’t help but consider whether chapter twenty eight is telling us to look again at the introduction of Job.  Does he know this wisdom and understanding from the beginning of the book?  One wonders if it was this wisdom that assisted him as he walked through the struggles he encountered throughout the story.

Roland Murphy states that after this, the debate is over.  Job’s friends have nothing else to say.  But Job continues to talk to God.  Perhaps that is a good place for us to be.  Talking with God.  Fearing the Lord.  Turning away from evil.