The houses on our street are festooned with fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins glare from porches, and a witch on her broom seems to have run into a near-by telephone pole. A bowl of candy sits by our front door—ready for Tuesday night’s trick-or-treaters. I’m looking forward to seeing cute little kids in their princess and superhero costumes. But all the other stuff? I don’t mind cobwebs, spiders, bats, or pumpkins (even with leering grins). But witches? Seances? Evil spirits? No thank you!
Have you visited a medieval cathedral such as Notre Dame, Westminster Abbey, or the incredibly tall cathedral in Cologne, Germany? I love the soaring arches, ornate architecture, stained glass windows, and the quiet, contemplative spirit inside. In fact, I think they’re altogether lovely, except for one thing: the gargoyles. It just makes no sense. Why in the world would the Christians of the Middle Ages put such evil-looking monstrosities on the very buildings they were dedicating to the worship of God?
As I continue to read through Jeremiah, I’m constantly struck by the similarity between the moral state of their nation and of ours. The Israelites were intentionally ignoring God while sacrificing even their children to idols. Instead of seeking holiness through obedience to the Lord who loved them, they were focused on feeding their appetite for power and wealth. Over and over God decried the lack of justice in the land. He sent prophets to warn them, and they mocked God’s word.
Turning off the main highway, our minibus bumped over the rocky gravel road toward Gege, Swaziland. Tree farms, with their orderly rows of pine and eucalyptus, gave way to grassy hillsides, cattle, and the occasional small cinder block building. I tried to snap some photos from the moving bus, with limited success.
About ten minutes into our 40-minute ride, we bounced past a run-down homestead flying a worn, solid black flag. Odd, I thought, and asked our missionary host what the flag signified. He explained that some Swaziland belonged to a cult that worshiped a nasty snake idol/demon, and the flag meant that a snake “church” met at this home. Apparently, Gege was the epicenter of this cult.
Church was beginning, the band hit their first beat, and the congregation stood up to sing an upbeat song about God. It was two days ago, Sunday, a typical weekend service. I was feeling anything but upbeat.
Earlier that morning, I’d read the first news reports about the victims of last week’s shooting in Aurora, just an hour north of here. While every life counts, I was particularly affected by the mom in critical condition in the ICU who kept asking if her six-year-old daughter was all right. Of course, if you’ve seen the news at all, you know she wasn’t all right. She was dead. And no one could bring themselves to tell the mom.
I could relate too well. I have two daughters and now a granddaughter. Having something horrible happen to them is my worst nightmare.
It’s graduation season and millions of graduates are getting all sorts of advice, some useful, and some not so much. The useful advice tends to be practical: eat your veggies, spend less than you earn, sort your laundry. (My college’s team color was an intense, bright red. By the end of the first month, most of the guys in my dorm had new t-shirts—and pink underwear.)
The more esoteric advice leaves a lot to the imagination: “Strive.” “Live your dreams.” “Be all that you can be.” Strive to do… what? The value of much advice like this depends largely on what a graduate’s goals are. Do they want to make the world a better place? Or is their goal to amass as much stuff (money, fame, power) as possible?