Monday, June 23, 2014

The Childhood Cabin

Once my family arrived at Fred’s, the small meat and convenience store in Goodland, we knew the little red cabin was only minutes away. As a child, unable to read maps or even process the concept of one, the cabin was a secret--and thus sacred--destination known only to my father, the driver. The only navigation tools available was the peculiar landmarks. Fred’s was the last stop before the lake, and I always made sure to pick up a bag of Peanut Lovers’ Chex Mix. To this day, when I open a bag of it, I smell the cabin with all its childhood memories.

The cabin is long gone, but the memories preserve it like a private museum.

The anticipation built exponentially after we left Fred’s. There were a few turns in the roads that acted as subtle landmarks, solidifying our progress. The excitement reached its palatable state once we got to a small, yellow pipe structure that we would, of course, call the “Yellow Pipes,” (which had eventually been painted white, but we stubbornly continued to call them yellow to maintain our little tradition) where we would unbuckle our seat belts--for good--and ride the last mile in anticipation. We knew then that the cabin would soon be upon us. 
Creeping into the cabin driveway was akin to hunting. We crawled through the tight, sandy pathway with our conversion van, looking out the windows for deer, squirrels or other critters. My dad would never speed down the driveway either, for that would have altogether destroyed the entire journey. The entrance to our wooded getaway required deliberate gentleness and sensitivity. Our arrival would lose its potency if we raced in. 

I would always be the one to open the gate. The lock was hardly extravagant; it was a small plank of wood used to keep the gate wedged in its catch. Due to the gate’s own confusion about whether to stay open or closed after it was unlatched, it would stabilize half-way open. My job would be to hold the gate open, let the van through, then find a stick to jab into the ground and hold the gate open. This job gave me the chance to be the first one to scope out the premises, since the van was too busy parking, and I would run straight to the lake.

The lake was the most powerful welcoming presence, even though I had to run past everything else to see it. Sometimes dead fish or other aquatic debris would line the beach and occupy my interest. The wind was usually from the West, which meant it blew over the lake directly to us. The lake breeze and the sights of the blue water and the opposite shore’s green tree assured us that we had arrived.  

The work began as soon as we arrived, since we had to haul our belongings and groceries into the cabin. My Dad would mow the “lawn” (it was a little patch of weeds) and my Mom would unpack the groceries. My job was directly related to my pyromaniacal tendencies: collect the loose sticks to put in the campfire wood pile. 

My Dad would shortly try to catch a couple of northern pike for supper. If the wind and lure was right, we would surely have delectable fresh fish to eat. As a child, these predatory freshwater fish would often sober my swimming experience, as I would never let my toes go too deep and would always keep moving. Hearing stories of northerns biting toes never leave young ears, no matter what the probability or likelihood of it actually happening is. 

Still, swimming was a staple in cabin life. Although I feared the predatory northerns, I would enjoy strapping on my goggles and maneuver through the weeds. When I got deep enough, though, the dark depths below would propel me back to the surface; too much mystery and darkness laid there.

My pyromania was fueled at the cabin. Finding birch tree bark was similar to finding treasure because it allowed me the chance to wield flame like a primordial human. I found a stick long enough to keep the fire away from me but small enough to handle, and I would then put the bark on the campfire with the “handle” at the ready. The bark burned a certain way that made it naturally wrap itself around the stick. Intuition and experience taught me when it was ready to wield, and I would soon be strutting around the night-laden cabin grounds with fire lighting my path.

The rooms had their own blankets for bedding, but I preferred my sleeping bag. At night, mosquitoes would find their way into the building, which wasn’t difficult for them, since the door was constantly opening and closing with activity. Falling asleep knowing that there was a mosquito in the room was normal. We didn’t like it, but it was a part of cabin life. I often tied socks around the mosquito bites on my legs and arms just to fall asleep since the itchiness kept me awake. The few bloodsuckers in the room would leave me with more bites in the morning, but at least I had gotten sleep before I had to deal with these new ones.

Sometimes life must progress and childhood memories need to be stowed on the back shelves of our minds. These pleasant memories of the cabin will always weave themselves in with new ones I’ll make with my own children. Perhaps that is the point of memories; the ones from the past will fuel and strengthen the ones of the present and future. Indeed, only I will ever see the impact that my own memories of the cabin will have over the rest of my life, yet that doesn’t make me feel bad that others can’t see them too. Everyone has their own set of memories; they are extremely personal, and that is a good thing. They are made to be that way. 

This is why we need to make every effort to foster a living experience for our children that supports good memories. Parents ought to be the chief instruments that provide ways for children to cultivate their own memories. Without my parents, the cabin and all its memories would have remained nonexistent. I want to try my best to be memory-cultivating instrument for my own kids. Let’s craft good memories for our children and the next generation. We know they need it. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

God's Purpose for Wild Samson

Romans 8:28 and Genesis 50:20 clearly maintain that God is able to take evil occurrences and use them for a good conclusion. Although much of God’s purposes in our lives remains veiled to us, the divine perspective can be trusted. Like having a bird’s eye view of a complex maze, we can trust God to know the best route for our life. 

This principle can be seen undergirding the tumultuous life of Samson (Judges 13-16). From all outward appearances, Samson was a wild man, intent on meeting his own desires. The Scripture text indicates that he knew about his Nazirite status (Judges 16:17), which means he knew that God had called him to something special. Perhaps he even understood his role as a “judge” (see their description in Judges 2:16-18), since he performed the role for twenty years (Judges 15:20).

Samson was a peculiar judge, at least in the way that the author of the Book of Judges describes his life. The author seems to focus primarily on his personal exploits and rash behavior rather than his role as a judge (read through chapters 14-16 and see how much space is devoted to Samson’s personal life), since any mention of his militaristic judging is nominal (13:5; 15:14-15, 20; 16:31). This is contrasted with all the other judges, whose stories were told with a chiefly military focus. Additionally, the story of Samson is the longest section in the Book of Judges, which, coupled with the focus on him as a person, essentially makes his story a Biblical version of a gripping novella while simultaneously giving the other judges’ accounts the appeal of a colorless textbook.

God’s hand in Samson’s life is thus overshadowed by the personal exploits of the main character. This does mean, though, that God was not involved. There is a single verse that could describe the entire account of Samson. In Judges 13:5, the Angel of the Lord tells Samson’s mother that Samson will “begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” The Hebrew in this verse clearly says that Samson will only begin to save Israel. The text never says that Samson will eradicate the Philistines and their oppression on God’s people. He was never meant to be a savior. Samson didn’t fail, like many believe; he did exactly what God had intended him to do.

What was it that God wanted him to do, exactly? What was his “divine calling”?

Part of why people have a problem with Samson is that his divine calling is one large grey area. Was he to be a Nazirite, a judge or a mixture of the two? Even the Angel of the Lord was mysterious about Samson’s divine purpose when Samson’s father inquired about it (13:12-14). If one takes the entire account as a whole, though, and sees it as a preliminary foundation for the account of Samuel, Saul and David, then Samson’s purpose can be ascertained. 

The problem with Israel during this period was their complacency with the Philistine rulership. This complacency is implied in two respects: the first is the ease with which Samson can seep into the Philistine culture (14:1-4, 10-14) and the second is the willingness of the men of Judah to turn Samson over to their “overlords,” the Philistines (15:9-11), which directly contradicted the attitude that Israel maintained at the nascence of their Canaanite conquest (Judges 1:1-26). 

God wanted to break the spell of complacency that had been draped over Israel. What better method of doing so than dropping a boat-rocking, vengeful, tumultuous wild man with superhuman strength into the mix?

Samson’s personal exploits were far more than rash behavior. They were part of a divine plan. Samson was only meant to begin to save Israel, and he did so by acting the way he did--with whimsical outbursts of revenge, feats of valor and the womanizing of foreign women. God riled up the Philistines to fight against Israel (who should have been fighting anyway). Due to this newfound contention between them and the Philistines, the roles of Eli, Samuel, Saul and David could be actualized in God’s plan. 

It was all because to Samson. Without him, Israel would have never had Saul, David and Solomon on the throne to usher in Israel’s Golden Age. Samson may have been messy, but his role was fulfilled. With Samson’s mess, God built a kingdom.

It’s easy to hold ourselves in contempt in regards to the failures of our past. We are ashamed of our messes. Instead of focusing on our own shortcomings, I think it would be wise to look beyond ourselves. We can trust that God knows what he’s doing, no matter how much the present “life hurdle” or past stumbling blocks beg us to doubt his goodness. We would be better off trusting his eyes than our own finite ones that are so prone to misperception. 

Samson may not have known his role in Israel’s story, so why must we insist on knowing ours? Why can’t we simply be ourselves and walk with God, trusting that our roles will be fulfilled? If we make an effort to seek his will in all life decisions, he will lead. The beauty of God’s plan for us is that it’s beyond us. It’s something that invites us--not something that we muster on our own. We can have peace that our lives are not messes if God can craft a kingdom out of the messes of Samson. If God can use Samson, he can use anyone.