Saturday, January 12, 2008

DEMOTION BEFORE PROMOTION: Finding Spirit When Ankle Deep in Sheep Crap


Do you remember the biblical story of Moses tending sheep under the shadow of Mount Sinai just before he meets God in the burning bush? If you’ve never read the story, surely you recall Charlton Heston in the movie, The Ten Commandments, in his starched shepherd ensemble, pensively surveying the grazing flocks.

Until recently, I always imagined Moses under soft blue skies, a content shepherd in an idyllic pasture filled with little prancing, bleating sheep. Not anymore. Now I see him bitterly reminiscing about his days as a powerful prince in Egypt , with servants, fine food, clothes made of Ethiopian silk, expensive wines, residing in luxury on every level of life. And now he is ankle deep in sheep shit, working under a scalding sun, remembering the murder he committed to help a fellow Hebrew and the subsequent betrayal by his own people who identified him publicly as the killer. Moses was now a felonious fugitive, freshly demoted from royalty to a common farmer – an occupation which must have been the ancient equivalent of a midnight 7-11 clerk.

I see Moses in pain, doubting his tribal God of Abraham, questioning why he had served such an absent God, forced into a way of life he despised. It is in this situation that we see him approaching the famous burning bush where he hears the voice of God say:
“I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.” Exodus 6:3If we could read the thought-bubble hovering over Moses' turban, I think we might have seen something like this:

“A new name? God has a new name? What’s wrong with the old name? God doesn’t change. This is blasphemy! This really screws up the old doctrinal statement and my former theology.”

But Moses stayed and listened. He received a new call beyond his wildest imagination - to lead Israel out of Egypt . Suddenly his God got immensely bigger; it had to in order to match Moses’ huge new mission. In a flash of insight, no pun intended, he saw that the years of commotion with his subsequent demotion and stressful emotions, were steps upward to this new enlarged vision. I was tempted here to write, demotion is really promotion, but I am already sounding too much like Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Someone reading this right now may be experiencing similar bitter turmoil around a lost job, relationship or physical health. You may be angry over being demoted in some area of life, financially or vocationally. Like Moses, you are ankle deep in the stench of loss, wondering why this ‘God stuff’ doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to! Take heart. You are about to find a new name for God. The universe seems to use these kinds of situations to expand our understanding of ‘God’ and to prepare us for a larger mission.

True spirituality always involves experiencing the Divine by a new name. God may not change, but our understanding shifts each day, week and year. The divine has always revealed itself by innovative metaphors and fresh images. This idea scares entrenched religious people to death, conservatives and liberals; including any of us who think we have this God thing figured out. Keep your eyes open for your burning bush, the flash of insight will come. Externally we sometimes move from the palace to the pasture, but there is divine order in the apparent chaos.

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