Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Judges 2: 6-23) transports me to the Old Place, aka the Dotson family land in the Spring Mountain community of Fairview, NC, where I have lived since 1998. It was summer, and Kim and I were living in my brother David’s house while we started building our own home. We were the latest in a long line of generations of Dotsons who had lived on that land. I got the bright idea one day to weed eat a trail up to the top of the mountain, so Kim and I could do some hiking. I got up to the first plateau when I ran out of weedeater string, and I was too lazy to take it back and put more in and walk back up, so I laid the weed eater down and decided to simply explore my way up to the top, through the weeds and thick underbrush of briers and laurel. I made my way up the steep slope, walked around enjoying the sights, and started back down. Somehow, I got turned around, started going down a different slope than I came up, and got lost. I wandered around, and then came close to disaster. I tripped over a vine, went tumbling down a hill, twisted my ankle, and found myself laying on the ground underneath a heavy ground cover of poison oak. It was about as snaky-looking a place as I could imagine, and I lay there imagining my demise. I would get bit by a rattler, go crazy before dying, and Kim wouldn’t find me before winter, when all the undergrowth shed its leaves. Thankfully, no snake came by, and I eventually got up, stumbled my way on down, and came to an unfamiliar dirt road. I was so glad to be in civilization and see a house, until a pack of dogs emerged from the house and came growling my way. A woman came out and called the dogs off, and I explained my plight. I asked her for directions back to Dotson Road, and she pointed back through the woods, saying I was only about 10 or 15 minutes from home. I politely turned her down, and instead followed the dirt road back to the main road, where I was a couple of miles away from our drive. At least I knew where I was, and I hobbled on back. I got close to Dotson Road, which is another mile up to our house, and saw my Uncle Jim driving toward me. I started waving my arms frantically to flag him down, and he slowed, and then started up the drive without me. I kept hollering and waving, and he finally stopped. He said he didn’t recognize me at first, and thought I might be Eric Rudolph, the fugitive domestic terrorist who was on the most wanted list that summer and was thought to be hiding out in the mountains. When I look back at my pictures from that era, I can hardly blame him.
After Joshua died, the latest in a long line of generations of Hebrew people tried their hand at building a community there on what had come to be their family land. They tried blazing their own trail, and quickly lost their way. The word way is used repeatedly here in this brief passage, contrasting the way of the wayward Hebrews and the Way of God, the Way of their ancestors. The next generation prostituted themselves to other gods, following the corrupt cultural mores instead of the covenant. They were stubborn in their ways, the story tells us. As a result, God took away the protecting hand from the children of Israel, and started working through the neighboring enemy nations and peoples, to test Israel and see whether they would keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did. A long cyclical history of turning back to the Way and falling prey to the ways of corruption ensued, throughout all the period of the judges and kings and prophets, until Jesus came, embodying the Way and giving a clarion call for people of faith to follow that Way. It was a clear path away from the cultural gods the powers that be had prostituted itself to for generations – materialism and greed, vengeance and violence, discrimination and oppression. Jesus cut away the ground cover and weeds that had covered up the ancient path of contentment, love, and welcome.
When I finally got back to brother David’s house, I was concerned that I had worried Kim, since I had been gone for so long. She was not concerned at all. She laughed (after taking some pity on my turned ankle), saying that she had woken from a nap, wondered where I was, and walked up to the first plateau. She saw the weed-eater laying there with no string, and knowing that I was too lazy to walk back for more, she surmised that I had simply gone hiking up to the top through the brush. When I told my dad the story, he guffawed, saying through his laughter that you could blindfold him and drop him anywhere on that mountain, and he would know exactly where he was. He knew the Spring Mountain community like the back of his hand, and it would be impossible for him to get lost. He was not bragging; he was just speaking truth. What was true about his knowledge of that literal landscape was also true for his spiritual life. He knew the Way of Jesus like the back of his hand. It’s impossible for me to imagine him falling off that path into the world’s ways of corruption, greed, materialism, violence, and discrimination. Over the past fourteen years, I think I’ve come to know the land well enough not to get lost on the mountain anymore, and my hope is one day to know that Way of Jesus equally well.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.