Monday, August 13, 2012

Old Testament Overtime: Get Lost

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful dischordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Starting with..

Get lost.

Coming out of Egypt, the Israelites got just past the Red Sea, sinned, and spent 40 years lost in the wilderness.  Forty years.  For what some experts would say should have been an eleven-day trip.  And yet, they were so thoroughly lost in what should have been a simple journey that we have not one record of anyone asking, "Didn't we already pass this rock?"

I'm fairly good with directions and can fabricate a general sense of where I'm going most of the time - follow the sun by the time of day or the sky at night to figure out, approximately, what is westward or northward or eastward or southward.  If I knew I was headed to Canaan, to a land flowing with milk and honey, and I had some reasonable idea of where Canaan was...I'm pretty sure I'd get just about there.  In somewhat less than 40 years.  After all, I can find my car in a parking lot, find my way home from wherever I manage to find myself, and figure out how to get around a detour and back to where I'm going.  These things come naturally to me.

The truth is that in the 21st Century, I'm less and less alone in being directionally gifted.  We have maps and MapQuest and GPS and Siri to guide us wherever we're going...or get us back from where we've gone.  We have satellites that, if you try to disappear, can pinpoint you and tell people where you're at or at least, where you were last known to be, which should give them some idea of where you actually are.  Security cameras and traffic cameras and eyes in the sky, all designed to keep tabs on things but actually keep tabs on us.  Our lives have trackers all over them.  You have to be deliberate these days to get lost, and even then, it's not so easy.

People have tried.  They still run away.  They still seek solace in the mountain refuges or the vast expanse of a national forest.  They still look to go off the grid, as we would say, even though today, the grid is almost everywhere.  I know there are times I'd like to just go, to get away from all of this, to not tell anyone where I'm going and not even know myself when I'll be back.  But if I ever up and disappeared, like so many others who have tried the same, worried parties would employ all the law enforcement and facial recognition technology we have to offer to track my movements to a truck stop in the middle of nowhere (Egypt, as we ironically call it), then send out the hounds from there.  To avoid all that, I'd have to make an announcement that I was leaving and would maybe be back, but there would be questions about my plans and destination that then, if I didn't answer, would only worry people all the more because 1) it's a dangerous world out there and not safe for no one to know where you are, 2) there might be an emergency that requires I be contacted, 3) I might be up to something.  (I'd probably be up to something.)  You may have other reasons that prohibit you from getting lost.

But here's what I love from the story of the Israelites: You can know exactly where you're going, exactly how to get there, and still get lost.  And I don't think we're doing that enough.

We're too focused on getting there.  We're too focused on the next thing.  We're too focused on the goal, on the promise (whether it's of the Promise or the culture's convention), on the land flowing with milk and honey.  If we know where we're going, let's get there and move on.  Let's get there and find out what's next.  Let's not dilly-dally; let's not waste time, for we believe for some reason, we have no time to "waste" on things like lost.

Look again at the nation of Israel.  They wandered forty years for a week-and-a-half trek, even though they knew where they were going and roughly how to get there.  Left to their own devices, they would have arrived safe and sound and well, alive and young.  In THIS generation.  But they weren't just going; they were following.  That took them on a detour, and they lamented their time in the wandering.  But it wasn't a journey they were willing to make without God.

I'm amused that in all their frustration, in every time they cried out against Him, turned against Him, hated what they were going through, nobody said, "Hey...forget it.  Let's just go to Canaan."  I'm surprised nobody broke off from the group and went it alone to the Promised Land.  Maybe they did and Moses just didn't tell us; I don't know.  But they followed His winding path even while they turned from His ways.  Remarkable!  They embraced the gift of following even when they were weary of the wander.  And that generation never got there.

We need to understand that though in our eyes, our lives are finite and this is our one chance to do in the world what we aspire, time does not stop at this generation; time marches on.  And maybe we'll never get there.  Maybe this generation will pass and the next will be the one to get "there."  Maybe we'll reach a mountaintop and see what's just slightly next but not for us...and be ok with that.

It's easy, sure, to say that we don't have time for lost.  That lost takes too long.  We wonder why we wander when we know where we're going.  It's easy to turn and say, "Forget it.  I know where this headed, so let's just go."  It's easy...but it's not blessed.  Blessed is a life open to wander.  Blessed is a life open to lost.  Blessed is a life that knows and trusts that God is leading us somewhere - just as He's promised - but embraces the joy that is in the journey, even if we know we've passed this rock before.

Blessed is a life that loses itself but is never lost because it's simply following.  Wherever the road may lead, even if we can never put a tracker on it.

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