The Making of Tents and Beds

The Making of Tents and Beds

Each night for the past three nights I have had to make my bed before climbing into it. And by “make my bed” I mean gather sheet and blankets from the floor to re-position them on and re-tuck them under the mattress. This is due to the fact that my children have deemed my wife and I’s bedroom as the ideal location to pitch a tent. And it is – the ground is soft and level, free from rocks. It has some higher shelter already provided. It’s near a source of water, restroom facilities, and even a shower. And our sheets seem to be just the kind of lightweight material needed to provide temporary lodging.

However, while I respect their creativity and resourcefulness, I told my wife last night that I was going to rip all the covers off their beds each day so that they have to make their beds each night before they go to sleep. She wisely said that would just mean more beds for me to make each night. And even if I were to set that plan into motion, it would require removing the dream tents that three of them have on top of their beds. And that’s to say nothing of the forts that currently fill the basement. All three levels of our house bear evidence that my children seem to be overcome by the need for protection upon protection. Shelters within a shelter. Walls within walls. Maybe they know something I don’t.

I guess these are good life skills to have. If trapped in the wild with nothing but couch cushions and sheets, they will be able to construct low clearance shelters and roofless fortresses with keen and well-honed dexterity, provided there is no crosswind, inclement weather, or sloping terrain. So, in the interest of their future preservation, I will let my room serve as their campground. But maybe they can add “leave no trace” and “making the bed” to their set of survival skills.

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Noble Joseph

Noble Joseph

If we followed the lead of the text of Scripture, the men playing Joseph in our various Christmas programs would have no speaking parts. There is no song of Joseph, nor do we hear him respond verbally to the multiple angelic visits he receives. He never pleads with the innkeeper. He says nothing to the shepherds or sages. He rightly stands stoically in the background of our nativities, work-worn hands behind his back, a model of the many strong, silent-types we know. We see his face in the subdued and unassuming men who make up our world. In front of Joseph’s bent frame, the Infant lies front and center, where he should always be. But this Christmas in particular it may be profitable to let our second glance turn to noble Joseph.

Chronologically, he enters the narrative after Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and the miraculous conception of Jesus in her virgin womb. When her pregnancy is finally revealed, Joseph determines to divorce her (Matthew 1:18-25). The move seems somewhat heartless, but we’re told this decision flowed from the righteousness that marked his character and from a commitment to shielding Mary from shame. It would be done quietly; he would bear whatever disgrace fell to him due to the absence of a more public display.

His plans were of course altered with the appearance of an angel of the Lord, who assured him that the child truly was a work of the Holy Spirit, just as Mary had attested. We might imagine how her claims had been dismissed by nearly everyone but her cousin, Elizabeth, but God always causes the truth to prevail, and often gives us faithful friends to stand by us. Rising from sleep, Joseph’s righteous and just character continue to shine as he immediately follows God’s command, taking Mary as his wife, but postponing the physical consummation of their marriage, honoring both her and God in his self-control.

Matthew 2 shows us that his protection extended from his young bride to the Son he was called to care for. Herod, drunk with power and paranoid that he might be deposed and exposed for the fraud he was, heard the good news of the wise men as a threat to his reign, and chose to eliminate two-year-olds throughout his land rather than humble himself before the true King. In that dark shadow, Joseph’s light shines brighter still. He again silently stands as a shield to the innocent, traveling wherever his dreams directed, aiding in the preservation of the life of Jesus until God safely brought them all to Nazareth.

In the small slice of his life revealed in Scripture, Joseph wordlessly calls to us all, especially the men of our age, to courageously stand against both the easy path of self-preservation and the Herod’s who are focused solely on self-exaltation. He reminds us to trust that God’s ways, though confusing and counter-cultural, always lead to life and joy and the promotion of truth. His example says, “Protect the innocent, especially those whom society would seek to silence. Be a defender of women, of the unborn, and of children. ‘Be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.’” (Phil. 2:15)

As we seek to match Joseph’s strides, we also join him in taking a step back to let Jesus fill center stage. The Son in the manger would far exceed his earthly father in all his noble actions. Joseph and every man and woman before and after him have dirt and blood on their hands, which is why Christ entered our world – to walk through the dirt of earth but not be stained by sin and to shed his blood to cleanse our violent hands. He’s come to redeem us, to fill us with the power of the Spirit, and to call us to follow him down the path of true holiness and humility. It was a path Joseph walked well, and a path Jesus walked perfectly. May we as men and women of God follow them in our day, proclaiming righteousness through our words and actions.

In Memory of the Boys

In Memory of the Boys

It was the threat of the removal of Robert E. Lee that brought out the ugliness of white supremacy in Charlottesville. The man who was called on by other men to lead men and boys to fight for the right of men to own men and women and children – his image incited men to emerge from their darkened homes with rebel flags in their hands and unabashed swastikas emblazoned on their arms, pridefully bearing the symbol of a nation that devalued nearly everyone. The present sight of these past symbols of hate makes us wonder, “How long must we deal with the scars and receive fresh wounds from history’s darkest days?” Sadly, a little bit longer, it would seem.

The frustration with the scenes in Charlottesville overflowed in Durham as protesters pulled the bronze statue of a confederate soldier to the ground. His feet remained planted in the marble slab that toppled with him, but his legs buckled under the weight of the fall. Crumpled on the grass, he was kicked by legs of flesh that did nothing to mar the form any further than the plummet from glory had already, all while insults were shouted in his deaf ears.

The Durham monument was erected “in memory of the boys who wore grey.” The boys. They’re always the ones who fight our battles for us. Whatever ideals we hold to, whatever blind spots we refuse to acknowledge, it’s the youth that are called upon to sacrifice themselves in their honor, or to inherit the sinful ruts that our wheels keep falling into. I can’t help but weep for the boys who wore grey. And the boys who wore blue. A generation cut down for a cause they may not have fully understood. I weep too for the boys who marched with rebel flags. And the boys who were singled out because they donned a hoodie one fateful morning. How often the boys are naively forced to carry the flags we put in their hands, and then to die because we didn’t have the courage to admit the evil residing deep within. We all bear responsibility for our actions, yet too frequently we lead those who follow us into the same pits we have already fallen in ourselves.

The filth of our hatred runs deep, and it spills over from generation to generation, polluting the water the boys are asked to drink. We long, deep in the wells of our hearts, for the water to be purified, maybe by time or knowledge, but it nevertheless fills our streets and our faucets, until one day we don’t realize what we’ve been drinking now makes up the influential majority of our being. We assume slavery has been burned to the ground with much of the post-war South, but it rises again and again. We think the dream is becoming a reality, but then we wake up to news of fresh violence based on the color of a man’s skin and blind to the content of his character. We assume that we have overcome our own wickedness, but it shows up in unbidden thoughts and careless words.

We can pull the boys to the ground and watch their knees bend, but no matter how hard we kick, we still have to stare in their faces and realize that what we are so angry at them for has to be beaten from our own hearts first. Bronze statues were built to endure, even when we wish they would disappear. Public or hidden, their history must never be ignored, not so we can point our fingers in judgment, but so we can contemplate how like our ancestors we are. Bronze or flesh and bones, we all have feet of clay.

So we must continue the good fight, for ourselves and for the boys and girls that will fight the battles we incite, and we can truly hope that things will change. Yet for the ones who have chosen to walk with Jesus on the road of love and self-sacrifice, our greatest hope is that we as children of God through faith in Christ will one day be dressed, not in grey or blue or any other color, but in pure robes, our multi-colored faces unveiled and lifted towards the throne of the Lamb who died to ransom sinful, hateful, evil people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Every knee will bend before him on that last day, and every tongue will confess that we are sinners all, and that the only one who can declare supremacy is the one who humbled himself and died to purchase his bride, made beautiful by the love and grace she has been showered with.