Tag Archives: Egypt

Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “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.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?

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This Day in History: God Breaks a Heart of Stone

By Eugene C. Scott

What if the place Jesus spent his last days could tell its story? The story of how God broke a heart of stone.

Granite to the core–a heart of stone, they said. And they were right. That the death and destruction, tragedy and violence I’ve witnessed in my 6,000 plus years on this earth would have crushed anything less than stone is true.  But even a heart of stone, they claimed, should have turned to dust, and like grains of sand been scattered in the desert wind.

In my long life I was smashed and left desolate by Canaan, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Only to rise up again. Why? How?

I can’t say. Knowing such things does not always come with age. I can say this. At one time I was the proudest of my kind. I weathered siege after siege because I was proud and strong. They all desired me. My temple was unrivaled. They say gods walked my streets. Though–again–I can’t say. I did not pay much attention to such things, until . . . .

. . . . until the week of the Jewish Passover in the days when Rome thought she owned me. A desert flea of a Jew, lauded as a king by a few hundred peasants, rode a scrawny colt through my east gate. I paid little mind. My walls were full of Jewish pilgrims, crawling through my alleys like ants. I blinked and forgot him. Then on Yom Reeve, the fourth day of the week, counted in the Jewish fashion–sundown to sundown–and the day before the Passover, this Jew tickled my ribs and woke me from my slumber.

“Do you see all these things?” this man with only one ratty robe asked, pointing to the temple shining like a moon on my highest hill. Those with him nodded recognizing my magnificence.

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be torn down.”

I laughed. The Babylonians had torn down my temple, but it rose from the dust; Alexander the Great had considered turning the temple to ruble but wisely reconsidered; Antiochus Epiphanies had desecrated her; he later paid dearly. And today she towered still. Each time my temple was sacked she rose again more magnificent than before. Not one stone left on another! Who did this man think he was? God?

I was not sure why what this man said mattered at all. Why I cared. I was one of the greatest cities of stone ever raised up on a desert hill. He was dust.

It may be because seventy years later his prediction came true. Rome tore me stone from stone and my temple still lies in its grave.

It may also be because of what he said to me, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This man saw me for what I was, a stone facade. My name “The City of Peace” has never been true. And it never will be, until he returns to walk my streets again. A city cannot bring peace, not the kind her people need. But can a city have a heart, stone or otherwise, you may ask? I can only speak for myself. Two days after he predicted my ruin–on a hill that looked like a skull–the last Jewish prophet to enter my gates wet my dirt with his innocent blood. I watched him breathe his last. I shuddered and that night my heart of stone broke.

Today, 2,000 years later I long to feel his sandals on my stone. I will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

If Jesus saw the art in me, a hard, proud city of stone, think of what he can see in you.

Read Matthew 23:37-24:1-51, Matthew 26:3-5, Mark 13:1-37, Mark 14:1-2, Luke 22:1-2.

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Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

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How to Be a Revolution: Read Your Bible

By Eugene C. Scott
Revolution! Facebook–and Twitter even–is being given partial credit for the overthrow of dictator Hasni Mubarak in Egypt. Protesters logged on to Facebook to share information and to gain an unfettered audience for their cause. Words–freely and virally disseminated–drove the Egyptian revolution. Thus informed and motivated, thousands of brave men and women stepped out of the virtual world and into the real one to face bullets, rocks, sticks, imprisonment and possibly death in order to gain freedom. We salute them and pray freedom takes root and grows as wild as weeds.

But just as Al Gore did not invent the Internet, so the Internet did not invent freedom of thought and expression. As seismic as its impact has been, the world wide web is simply the latest version–Freedom.4.0 so to speak–in a long line of word weapons we have wielded in the fight for freedom.

 

Original case for the 1611 Bible

Ironically 2011 is the 400th anniversary of one of human history’s greatest triumphs of the written word in our continuing battle for freedom. Similar to how we witnessed the successful end of the Egyptian protests (we hope and pray), people in the year 1611 saw the end of a violent 200 year revolution. With words, and fierce faith and determination, the protestors finally triumphed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before that–some two thousand years ago–Jesus, not the written word but the living Word, started a revolution in another time of severe economic, political, and religious oppression delivering us freedom never before imagined. This freedom promised not the mere overthrow of a despot dictator or corrupt system but rather the release of our bodies, minds and spirits from the tyranny of sin and corruption. We no longer had to cower to our own fears, cruelties, hates, frailties, and failures. Nor those of others.  Jesus proclaimed the truth would set us free.

What truth? That his life, death, and resurrection freed us from guilt, fear and separation from our Creator. Lean not on a ruler, president, government, religious system, or philosophy for what you need. These are blank-eyed idols. Dead. Jesus said. Then Jesus even conquered that ultimate tyrant: death.

In words inspired by God himself, Jesus’ followers wrote down the story and truth of Jesus’ revolution. Slowly–but just as virally as if the very air carried the story–the Word spread. First slaves, women and children learned they were valued and free in Christ. Boldly they struck out to live new lives. Then others bravely joined in. Often facing ridicule, torture, and death for their beliefs. Eventually even kings, dictators, and governments bent their knees to Christ the different kind of king. The good news of freedom in Christ conquered much of the world. Even the Roman Empire was reborn, this time with a soul.

Then slow tragedy struck. The Word, the story loved and lived by so many, was captured by the elite. Written in Latin, a language common folk no longer spoke, this great story of freedom disappeared from the streets and alleys and kitchens and living rooms and squares and markets of life. With the written Word locked in monasteries, cellars, libraries, studies, and castles, freedom vanished. The truth of Jesus‘ kind of freedom became a mere shadow of itself, like a wonderful childhood story heard before the fire but now only vaguely remembered and smiled at. Worse yet, the elite added untrue elements to the story. With their elite and twisted knowledge and power, these corrupt ones sucked freedom, faith, belief, truth, and life from their people like early versions of J.K. Rowling’s dementors.

But God kept for himself a remnant, a faithful few who read God’s amazing story in Latin and Greek and Hebrew and saw the truth shining from its pages like a search light in a dark sky. Then for two hundred years this remnant, men–and probably women too but unfortunately history did not record them–with names like Wycliffe, Huss, Gutenberg, Erasmus, Tyndale, Luther, Knox, Calvin, and Cranmer began to love and live Jesus’ original story again. Not only that, they began to retell it–translate and publish it–in the language of the people: common German, French, and finally English. Many died for this. Burned at the stake, tortured, shunned, hated. But they kept protesting, fighting.

Then in 1611 God drew all the work and struggle into one beautiful Book. That was the year King James authorized the publishing of Jesus’ revolutionary story in common, though beautiful and poetic, English. Finally, those translating and publishing this scared story would not be held in contempt or killed for making it available to the common people. Freedom was reborn.

Today we–and even the Muslim Egyptian protestors–are children of those brave revolutionaries. The historical strings that tie us to these ancient protestors (today called Protestants) have been lost, cut, and often purposefully obscured. But their God given love for Jesus and his truth about freedom drove them to fight against religious and political oppression. We bask in their work. Much of our belief in freedom of speech and our obsession with free thinking, learning, and expressing our beliefs and ideas is rooted in the story of Jesus–who spoke out against religious oppression long ago–and in the story of those who followed him and believed that every person should have access to this book of truth.

Today we call that book the Bible. Four hundred years ago this year, the Authorized King James version of the Bible was first published. Since then, it is the “most published book in the world . . the only book with one billion copies in print.” The King James Bible, along with its predecessors and descendants is a book of revolution: personal, national and international.

There is probably a copy of it, looking deceptively quaint, hidden somewhere in your house. Happy four hundredth birthday King James! Break out the Book and celebrate.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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