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Dust To Dust

November 22, 2012

I woke up this morning with “government intervention” on my mind. Actually, I had a rather bizarre dream after watching the Ken Burns’ feature on “The Dust Bowl” that aired on PBS.  While watching the special, I found it striking how much I “did NOT know” about this era and how or why the term “Dust Bowl” came about.  During the film I was also consistently reminded of the quote, “those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.” 

This quote, from George Santayana in “Reason in Common Sense” (Vol I, 1905-06) in context is perhaps even more appropriate,

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Basically, “change for change sake” is a futile effort at most. Change should be about growth and improvement and “refreshment” from routine or “the rut.” This requires learning from experience … maturing … otherwise, we’re forever doomed to be the selfish, short-sighted lot that we are.

In my dream, I was engaged with an old man … someone that I did not know, but I recognized him as the “last of his kind,” and someone who was holding steadfastly to his ideals but surely losing his grip.  He was terribly rich, incredibly smart and overtly arrogant by this position. He was stand-offish and existed mostly to himself. As his health rapidly declined, and his demeanor weakened, he became more humble and even vulnerable to the point that in the end of the dream, I was holding him and trying to comfort him on his deathbed.

In the dream, there were others standing around, “in need”, but for the present, moment in time, it was this old man that caused my heart to break and led me to offer some solace. He was aware of, and knew all those people who were also suffering. At the beginning of the dream, he saw them passing by his residence and while not exactly mocking their demise, he did offer a relentless condescending scoff at the “why” of their plight, (mostly it being their own poor choices or lack of motivation).

I heard his dismissive candor and immediately did not like him.  He had spent his whole life being independent and took great pride in “not needing or ever taking help from anyone.” He held great disdain for those who “went about with their hand out, seeking benevolence from others.” So, of course, it surprised me in the end that I was trying to comfort him as he dwindled from this life.  I knew that he was afraid … which I came to realize was at the foundation of his hardened persona.  He was afraid to be “in need of others” — afraid of not being in control of his destiny.

The last words I heard him say were, “Why do folks never learn from past mistakes?”

And so … I wake up ready to discern the message from this dream … if there is one.

One lesson I gleaned from the Ken Burns’ project is indeed we are a people (humans) who are destined to remedial learning.  It’s been that way through all time.  I’ve read countless stories in the Bible regarding the children of Israel and have asked, “Why are they so hard-headed?”  “Why can’t they remember the lessons from the past and how God has rescued them over and over, and yet they still pursue their own way?”

As a pastor friend of mine says, “It’s the people-ness of people.”

This message is current and relative because of the present situation in our country.  This recent election has been devastating on the “united-ness” (or community) of the United States of America.  It’s been devastating on even familial and otherwise “friendly” relationships.   Abraham Lincoln quoted Mark 3:25 in his “House Divided” speech when accepting nomination to the US Senate, “a house divided against itself, cannot stand.”  We KNOW this to be true, and yet we are handicapped by our own selfish motivations to bring about remedy.

I recently saw the movie, “Lincoln” (which I highly recommend — it’s a work of art).  It’s heartbreaking to watch, even though I know how the movie ends.  That such finagling and fighting and fervor took place over an issue that we can all NOW agree is a no-brainer — is simply astounding. THIS HOUSE was divided over slavery????  What kind of “good people” would even argue over that?  And to witness the humanity and the “heartache” that gripped Lincoln, only to know it brought about his murder … what a wretched lot we are!  And yet, we look back on him and that era with great romanticism and pride, knowing the end of slavery was an absolute and necessary change for this country.

But even then, as now, we still hear the grumblings of “too much government” and “states’ rights” and what about the “bottom line.”

Then, from “The Dust Bowl,” the same prideful, selfish mentality … manifested in greed, over-production, lack of knowledge and unwillingness to learn and utilize new technologies, a society made up of “haves and have-nots” — combined with God and nature’s “you’ll pay attention to Me one way or another” demonstration via years of drought and then just the fallout from The Great Depression — put pride, independence and control on the “sale block.” 

Suddenly, a nation “enslaved” again.

The documentary told of how even in the midst of desolation, desperation and seeing people dying and destitute, there was great resentment toward government intervention and toward people who did accept help … “welfare.”  Many were fearful of the programs that President Roosevelt initiated … calling it socialism or communism.  I DO UNDERSTAND “THAT” as a descendant from a people who immigrated to this country as indentured servants (slaves) to the government. 

I understand the “core values” that drive our independent nature!  I hold them tightly myself.  But I think there is a defined line between succumbing to government control, and coming together as a community to “get through tough times.”  There is a difference between “controlling your own destiny” and “comptrolling the welfare of others.” One leans more to “self-serving” and the other should lean toward “serving the whole.”  AND, throughout history, it has been a necessary cushion for all societies and cultures. 


Someone has to “step up” with a strategy … with the visionary abilities to see the “Big Picture.”

I woke up from this dream that led me to one of my favorite biblical characters — Joseph. (Genesis 37-50) 

Joseph was also a dreamer (and mocked for it).  He also had the ability to interpret dreams as well as “see the BIG PICTURE.”  His visionary and strategizing abilities put him in a very powerful position in which the government took control of a pending dire situation and helped save a nation and a people. Without Joseph’s leadership during a drought and famine, many people would have died including his own brothers who had previously orchestrated his demise.

So then what? 

From Exodus 1 (The Message) — a people enslaved out of “fear” and the need for “selfish” control.

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers—that whole generation. But the children of Israel kept on reproducing. They were very prolific—a population explosion in their own right—and the land was filled with them.

“A New King . . . Who Didn’t Know Joseph”

8-10 A new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, “There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We’ve got to do something: Let’s devise a plan to contain them, lest if there’s a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us.”

11-14 So they organized them into work-gangs and put them to hard labor under gang-foremen. They built the storage cities Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. But the harder the Egyptians worked them the more children the Israelites had—children everywhere! The Egyptians got so they couldn’t stand the Israelites and treated them worse than ever, crushing them with slave labor. They made them miserable with hard labor—making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.”

The government (under the new Pharoah’s direction), took drastic measures to control the Israelites and their “baby booming” practices by ordering all baby boys be killed.  That’s not pro-life or pro-choice, is it?

In any event, one child named Moses was saved from this “BIG GOVERNMENT CONTROL” and of course, there’s a whole lot more to the story of him and his leadership to help the Children of Israel escape from their bondage to the government.

So, in these days of The Dust Bowl and The Great Depression, something had to be done. Whether you watch the Ken Burns’ documentary or read John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” or listen to accounts from the generation that actually succumbed to the need for government intervention, we get a visual picture of the mental, emotional and physical challenges that impacted the necessity of being a “community.” But even so, there were struggles to see the BIG PICTURE. There was fear and pride and arrogance, and even an outright refusal to “learn from the past.”

It seems we are a relentless bunch, destined to live life in a “boom and then bust” mode, always ending up in the same situation — enslaved by our greed and selfish motivations.  We are desperate to be “independent” and yet, over and over throughout all history of mankind, we have proven to ourselves that we really cannot handle the responsibility that comes with independence.  WE MESS THINGS UP! We GET OURSELVES ENTRAPPED and ENSLAVED!  And then, and only then, we stop (for a moment) from our efforts to BE GOD and beg Him to rescue us from ourselves.

It’s COMMON SENSE … derived from both experience and stories retold in Sunday School and history books time and time again. 

We were created for, survive best and honor God most within “community” — working together, serving each other and caring for His creation.

Psalm 133:1-3

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Matthew 22:37-40

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Galatians 6:2

 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Romans 12:3-13

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; …

Could it be true … (and I believe that it is) … the necessity for governmental intervention only comes about because “we fail each other” and as believers and professed followers of Jesus Christ, “we fail to obey and adhere to” the principles of life that God has always intended for us. We don’t ever want to become enslaved, but due to our “people-ness” that’s exactly where our destiny lies.   And Jesus clearly and profoundly tells us the same in Luke 12. (Read it in any version you choose … and weep).

The last few verses of this chapter (from The Message) pretty much sums up the gist of this article, (Luke 12) …

57-59 You don’t have to be a genius to understand these things. Just use your common sense, the kind you’d use if, while being taken to court, you decided to settle up with your accuser on the way, knowing that if the case went to the judge you’d probably go to jail and pay every last penny of the fine. That’s the kind of decision I’m asking you to make.”

Learn from the past … stop repeating it … Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Stop wallowing in the dust, just to eventually become dust.

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