- The ideas: pretty much the same--reactionary to the Nth degree
- The logic: "Change is Communism," "Change is Socialism," "People who bring change are the Antichrist." 1959 = 2009
- The anger: I think it was probably worse in the 1950s
- The handwriting: better in the 1950s
- The spelling: the unfortunate spelling of "Public Option" might be a Freudian slip, I don't know. It was probably better in the 1950s.
- The use of the word, "NO:" better and more comprehensive in '09.
26 September 2009
21 September 2009
Great comparison in the New York Times this week about the connection between Gangsta Rappers and Talk Show hosts.
Segal, an admitted Gangsta Rap fan, sees four connections between the diametrically opposite entertainment genres:
Ego, Feud, Haters, and creative Verbal Skills.
I'll look forward to his follow-up article on how rap concerts are similar to Tea Parties;)
18 September 2009
From a recent assignment on metaphors, I culled the following comparisons:
- "Mankind is a busy ant hill that has no fear of being stepped on."
- "Mankind is Kanye West."
- "[Mankind is] a llama."
It's great to teach such deep—and weird—thinkers.
That's what the latest Harvard Medical School study says, placing the figure at 45,000 preventable deaths a year.
Great quote: "For any doctor ... it's completely a no-brainer that people who can't get health care are going to die more from the kinds of things that health care is supposed to prevent," Dr. Steffie Woolhander, HMS faculty member and Cambridge, MA, physician.
Most studies I have seen have put the number at half this number—still an alarming number. I'm not sure that I'm entirely convinced by this study's numbers.
But the fact is that a massive gap in America's health care system affects all of us. As we're finding with H1N1, we're not immune to disease just because most of us can go to a doctor. Untreated illnesses are catastrophic for those who die—or the 700,000 Americans a year who are bankrupted by health care costs. They are also dangerous for those of us who are immunized, treated, and healthy—for now.
17 September 2009
Eighteen months ago my principal and English department head conspired to do something that would shake my teaching to the core: for the first time in 12 years of teaching, they assigned me to teach 11th-grade American Literature.
It seems strange that it took me 12 years to get to this point. I had always considered myself a "Brit Lit" kind of guy, having studied for a year in England, and I enjoyed the basic essay-writing skills taught in 9th and 10th grade. I really didn't care to teach American Lit—until I had to care.
What was I to do? I took on the task with gusto. Soon my love for American history and my passion for my country was pouring out. I was reading great American books for the first time like The Great Gatsby, Walden, and Moby Dick (What took me so long? The education I received in American literature had been far inferior to that I received in the Brits. Enough said.) I even made Moby Dick the theme of a Summer Road Trip in 2008 to Plymouth and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
This week has been "Whaling Week" in my English 11 standard class. Today we capped off the week with the conclusion to Moby Dick, an 8-page excerpt of the chapter, "The Chase—Third Day" in our textbook. Melville has always been tough—and unpopular. Why else would an English major like me have avoided it for 20 years? But Moby Dick is worth the effort. In plot, characterization and philosophy, it is unequaled in Ame
rican literature. I think it's a lot like The Odyssey or The Bible: its meaning and impact get greater every new time you read it. I remember getting to page 450 in my first read and realizing, "I'm going to have to read it again to really, really get it." And you know what? I wanted to do it.
That's not to say that standard-level English students will feel the same way. That's why I break the Moby Dick lesson down to two days—and I precede it with a day reading non-fiction excerpts from In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, the real-life whaling story upon which Melville based his novel, and watching a video. I have a scale model of a harpoon in the class. This year I even had these landlubber students of mine practice knot-tying. By the time we started they were ready.
I read the first excerpt, from The Quarterdeck, out loud, pausing to help students wade through the language. I give voices to all the characters—Ahab always has a really raspy, "pirate" voice—and I try to do a little acting and add some sound effects. By the end of this reading, the kids have a vivid view of Ahab: god-drunk with hubris, exhorting the men, "Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" Truly, the only other character I can compare to Melville's Captain Ahab is Shakespeare's Richard III.
And the comparison doesn't end there.
On the 2nd day of the reading, I have arranged a choral reading. I have highlighted the parts of Ahab, Stubb and Starbuck. Students read these from the front as I read the non-dialogue parts. This year I added sound effects. A student at my computer played sea waves, bird calls, hammer sounds—even the theme to Jaws during the bits where the whale is bearing down on boats or The Pequod.
Did it work? I think it did. It was clear to the kids what had happened to Ahab—and to the whale. More importantly, I had many more kids taking part in the reading. I felt that it held their attention.
But as I read it aloud, one name kept coming back to me: William Shakespeare.
When I hear Moby Dick read out loud, I hear Shakespeare. I mean it. I'm here to say that Herman Melville is the closest American writer to Shakespeare's characterization and his cadences.
Consider two of the sections I read today. First, Starbuck's growing awareness that death lurks as he sees Ahab row away from the ship a final time:
Heart of wrought steel! Canst thou yet ring boldly to that sight?—lowering thy keel among ravening sharks, and followed by them, open-mouthed to the chase; and this the critical third day…? Oh! My God! What is this that shoots through me, and leaves me so deadly calm, yet expectant—fixed at the top of a shudder! Future things swim before me, as in empty outlines and skeletons; all the past is somehow grown dim. Mary, girl; thou fadest in pale glories behind me; boy! I seem to see but thy eyes grown wondrous blue. Strangest problems of life seem clearing; but clouds sweep between—Is my journey's end coming?
Aside from the brilliant image that is caught, "fixed at the top of a shudder," this is a heartbreaking line. If it were performed on a stage, even a middling actor could wring tears from an audience. It's almost better when it is spoken than read. Maybe that's why Moby Dick was considered a failure after it was published. Maybe that's why no one "got" Moby Dick until America's primitive movie industry put it on a screen in 1926, over 30 years after America's Shakespeare had died in obscurity.
When you hear it, you know.
When you read Moby Dick, it is easy to get bogged down. Every chapter of plot is followed by highly symbolic, highly philosophical treatises on the whaleboat, the line, the whiteness of the whale, etc. This is the stuff that makes the novel great (John Steinbeck uses the same tactic to intertwine the story of the Joads and the Dust Bowl in The Grapes of Wrath). This is what makes the novel worth reading again and again—as we unwind the puzzle of antebellum America Melville has hidden for us.
But the sounds of Moby Dick bring it to life. I want to introduce one more speech—the last words of Captain Ahab. This time I'll break it down to pentameter to see how it works:
I turn my body from the sun. What ho, Tashtego!
Let me hear thy hammer. Oh! ye three
Unsurrendered spires of mine; thou uncracked
Keel; and only god-bullied hull; thou firm
Deck and haughty helm, and Polepointed prow—
Death-glorious ship! Must ye then perish,
And without me? Am I cut off from the last
Fond pride of meanest shipwrecked captains?
Oh, lonely death on lonely life!
Oh, now I feel my topmost greatness lies
In my topmost grief. Ho, ho! From all
Your furthest bounds, pour ye now in,
Ye bold billows of my whole foregone life,
And top this one piled comber of my death!
Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering
whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's
heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake
I spit my last breath at thee.
Sink all coffins and all hearses to open common pool!
And since neither can be mine, let me then tow to pieces,
While still chasing thee, though tied to thee,
Thou damned whale! Thus, I give up the spear!
Why didn't I teach American literature until I had been at this twelve years? Maybe I wasn't ready yet.
Why did I teach Shakespeare dozens of times before I taught Melville. I think it's because you have to know one to love the other.
15 September 2009
I decided to focus on metaphor—a real strength of the Romantics. In the first 30 minutes I had introduced the kids to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “giant transparent eyeball.” I had 50 minutes to cover “Leaves of Grass.”
Walt Whitman is one of the messiest writers in American letters: a Romantic’s Romantic, he broke all the rules of writing. He never rhymed. Rather than publishing new works, he simply re-published Leaves of Grass every time he had a new batch of poems to add to it. For the unprepared, his writing is tedious, confusing, totally baffling.
For the English major, the love of Whitman begins with the sound of the ideas spoken aloud. His love of language is ebullient, outrageous. A perfectly good line of poetry is interrupted by onomatopoeia like Ye-Honk or Yawp. Personally, I can’t read it without getting glassy-eyed--that's glassy-eyed in the case of "wow, my mind is really percolating."
I decided to try to rip a chapter from "Dead Poets Society" and see if I could "gut" the Whitman lesson. I figured, if I acted like this was the most incredible poetry ever written, maybe the kids would fall for it. I set up a table to compare the metaphors, then we got into excerpts from "Leaves of Grass."
By the end of the first poem, I thought there was hope. "For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you," Whitman wrote. I made the connection with Transcendentalism. A slam dunk, I thought. I looked up. I saw glassy eyes, but they weren't inspired, they were confused.
To me, Whitman was firing on all cylinders. Who else could turn an everyday hay barn into a playful commentary on death?
The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready;
The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn wagon;
The clear light plays on the brown gray and green intertinged;
The armfuls are pack’d to the sagging mow.
I am there—I help—I came stretch’d atop of the load;
I felt its soft jolts—one leg reclined on the other;
And roll head over heels, and tangle my hair full of wisps.
I point out Dickenson, and I try to contrast Whitman's optimistic view of death with her dark brookings. I feel like I'm firing on all cylinders.
I look out. Students' heads are down. They just aren't getting it. Sigh--or rather YAWP!!! No, that doesn't work either.
Tomorrow is Thoreau. This has been a tough crowd. I need some inspiration--maybe a walk in the woods will help.
12 September 2009
But I am beginning to see a stronger antonym to fear. Freedom is a chain-link fence when it comes to fear. Freedom is a word I associate with my marriage, my kids, my relationship to God, but I cannot say that fear doesn't creep in from time to time. There must be a better antidote--a stronger wall to keep fear out. I need it in my marriage; I need it in my walk with God; and I truly feel that my nation needs it now as we lurch into the 21st Century.
The antonym to fear is faith--at least that's what I've learned. When I look back at the times I was really scared, it's pretty funny. I laugh about them now, because the roller coaster wasn't that bad, or, I should have known that my friend was hiding in the dark waiting to jump on me. But when I look back at the true dangers I have faced in my life--hitchhiking across Europe, going under the knife for brain surgery, or hiking through Mammoth Cave National Park in pitch darkness--I feel an incredible peace. I don't remember being afraid. I was convinced I was going to make it through.
The Apostle John writes that "There is no fear in love. But perfect loves drives out fear" (1 Jn 4.18). I understand this at a deep level. This 'perfect love,' then, is faith, isn't it? A perfect love of God drives out a fear of destruction, even unto death. This, then, is faith, and faith is the antonym to fear.
It was last weekend's Bible study that really brought this issue to the fore with me. We focused on Numbers 14, the story of the Israelite spies' return from Canaan. As we studied, I was transported back and forth in time with this realization: these people are my people, these leaders are my leaders. This isn't fear that we're talking about anymore. It is a crisis of faith.
The Hebrew title for Numbers means "Wilderness." I think it should be renamed "Impudence." Throughout the book, Moses faces challenge after challenge to his leadership. Just prior to the "Grapegate" incident of Chapter 14, his own brother and sister organize a leadership coup against him (Chapter 12). I'm sure that Moses is ready to get this journey over with--enter Canaan, as God had promised, and get out of this Wasteland of Grumbling. Let's just scout out the terrain, cross the Jordan River, and get on with fulfilling the promise of God.
Moses waits forty days for the spies to return. When they do, it's incredible: two men are struggling to carry a huge bundle of grapes stolen from a vineyard. They carry a basket of figs, another basket of pomegranates--and remember the Israelites haven't eaten fresh fruit for a number of months now.
The people's mouths must be watering even before the spies report, "We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is the fruit" (Nm 13.27).
"But..." (Nm 13.28a).
It's the next word. Look at the transition from verse 27 to 28: "...fruit. But..." Remember these people haven't eaten fresh fruits or vegetables for months. To me, it's like "...a brand new Lexus. But..." or perhaps it is more "...an all-expenses-paid trip through France and Germany. But...." Whatever it is, I want to pause here, partly because the denouement of the story is so depressing, partly because I want to linger on that fruit. It will be forty yearsbefore I'll see that sight again. Forty years. Forty, four-oh, forty years.
There has been division as the men struggled through the canyons along the Dead Sea, returning from their expedition, carrying this bounty. The division comes from fear, the absence of faith. Perhaps it was Palti who saw them first--the people, taller than him by a foot or two. They moved in and out of fortified cities with confidence, projecting wealth and strength. Sethur, son of Michael, remembered legends of the Anakites he had heard on his mama's knee--giants who had roamed the earth since the days of Noah. As they made their way back into the desert, Gaddi, son of Susi, saw those men grow to the size of cedars; Gaddiel, son of Sodi, saw those city walls grow as tall as cliffs.
Before the people can taste the grapes and pomegranates, one of these men utters Verse 28: "But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there."
By the end of Chapter 13, the descriptions have turned into fairy tales and outright lies: Nahbi, son of Vophsi, becomes the spokesman for the Stop Where You Are Party: "The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim* there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them" (32b-33).
What explains this behavior? Would anyone really fall for the line about grasshoppers? Did followers of God, believers in Genesis, really believe that legendary creatures like centaurs, giants, and Nephilim roamed the earth ready to devour them? I think the only explanation isfear. Fear casts out logic, even as it triumphs over faith.
"That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud" (14.1). I'll point out here that the night is lighted by a bright pillar of cloud that hovers over the Sanctuary, but it only makes the scene all the more maddening. Fear is master here, and his henchmen, aggression and stupidity, are closing in for the kill.
"Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" we ask. Why would we choose slavery over freedom? Why would we give our babies to the river instead of raising them in the Promised Land? It's fear. It's fear. It's fear.
In graduate school, my professor gave me a scholarly look at the leadership of Moses entitled, "The Nursing Father: Moses as a Political Leader." Describing this scene, the author, Aaron Wildavsky, assesses Moses's view of this and writes, "The truth is out. It is not Canaan but YHWH the people reject" (page 116).
This is why Caleb and Joshua tear their clothes at the sound of this. This wasn't merely a way of saying, "I'm upset." It was stronger. It meant, "Someone I love very much has died." The people who had chosen to identify with Yahweh in order to leave Egypt had rejected him. In realization of this, they have already admitted, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (4).
Caleb, son of Jephunneh, tries to cast out the fear. "Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them" (9). As he says this, men are picking up stones to silence him for good. Aggression is the henchman of fear, even as stupidity is his herald.
This is the nadir of the history of Israel, and it is a poor example for any nation for that matter. Yes, I know that they take possession of the land forty years later, led by Joshua and Caleb, but it's hard to find another place in the Bible where God's promise is so openly humiliated. It's worse than the scene at the golden calf (the only other time God offers to wipe out the entire nation and begin again with Moses and his half-Jewish sons).
And this is also what comes to mind as I see folks acting out about health care reform. I wonder if the vehement fears of some might actually bely a crisis of faith in our own country--the ability of "We the People" to solve our own problems and provide a better life for our children.
This charade has many of the same elements. For folks like me, the Promised Land looks like this: Americans live three to four years longer, infant morality drops to the level of well-developed countries, families like mine have $3,000 to $5,000 more every year to invest in our families instead of health insurance (basically the prices we were paying when things were already too expensive in 1999). Entrepreneurs can start their own businesses without the threat of losing health care for their families. Bigger businesses can thrive because their profits aren't being sucked away by out-of-control health care premiums for employees (one of the factors that sank GM). No one is bankrupted by health-care costs in this land; the 20,000 Americans who die each year because they put off health care no longer have to die. My health insurance bill is closer to what I pay for groceries and less what I pay for my mortgage.
But there are giants in this land, too. Health insurance CEOs have to settle for six-figure incomes and doctors are paid about 40% more than public school teachers. There are taxes in this land, so that everyone in America can be covered. And there is also the strong chance that illegal aliens benefit from these services.
In recent weeks, those who believe in giants have made the leap into fairy-tale realms where government panels decide who lives and who dies. Dark fairy tales about Nazis are retold, and hyperbole like "government takeover" and "socialism" gets bandied about. If you thought "grasshoppers" was a whopper, you should hear about how physicist Stephen Hawking wouldn't survive in the British Health Care system (somehow he has managed to live in Cambridge and survive with ALS for decades).
And it leaves our nation at a key point: do we move forward under the leadership of President Obama, or do we go back to Egypt--the free-wheeling health care days of President Bush? Some are reaching for stones; a man stood outside of an Obama town hall forum last week with a handgun strapped to his leg. Others are ready to tear their clothes.
Again, it's about fear, and fear is about faith. For me, it's more than faith in one person. Many of my friends on the other side of the aisle didn't support President Obama last fall, and they would love to see him fail, whether it be tripping over a shoelace or losing a legislative battle like this one. The lives at stake are not those of President Obama or members of his family; they are the lives of Americans whose work disqualifies them from public assistance but whose incomes are not high enough to pay exorbitant insurance premiums. The fortune at stake is not Joe Biden's but thousands of families who face hospital bills for care that will bankrupt them.
It's about faith in my country and its ability to solve problems. As I look at my country's history, I see tremendous problems that we confronted and eventually overcame thanks to great leadership. From President Jefferson's determination to expand the country westward to President Lincoln's push to end slavery, there was opposition, much fear, some violence (great violence in Lincoln's case). I think of Teddy Roosevelt taking on the trusts or Dwight Eisenhower sending the National Guard to Central High School in Little Rock. These men met incredible resistance, and my nation is better for their courage.
I guess that's how I'm able to read Numbers 14. I see my country's leader tested like Moses was tested. I see the people of my nation scared in the way the Israelites were scared. I hear monster myths, but I see grapes. I know the past, but I think I can see the future, just over that next range of mountains. I don't want to wait forty more days, much less forty more years, for that future to become real.
*See Genesis 6 for information on the Nephilim, who were basically all the demigods of other cultures who got inserted into the Old Testament and forgotten about. Hercules, Gilgamesh, Perseus, these come to mind from the descriptions found in those first four verses of Genesis 6.
- It's not quite as cool as the Call of Elisha, who is plowing a field when Elijah throws his cloak around his shoulders. Elisha immediately slaughters his oxen and burns them as an offering on the remains of the plow. Awesome!
- It's better than the small voice in the darkness that awakens Samuel.
- It tops David's return from the hills to be anointed with oil by that same Samuel.
- Yes, it tops "follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" and "I saw you while you were under the fig tree," the calls that Christ made to his disciples.
- I think it comes close the Call of Paul: a bright light from heaven and the words, "why are you persecuting me?"
- (If you can think of others, leave them in the comments.)
Make the heart of this people calloused;make their ears dull and close their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes,hear with their ears, understand with their hearts,and turn and be healed (verse 10).
Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken (11-12)
- It's good--no great--at getting information "out there" to friends, but it is limited. Blogger posts can show up on Google searches and things like that, whereas FB notes cannot. For a time I thought the wider audience for my ideas was Facebook. Now I know that it's Blogger/FB.
- The Facebook Note is very difficult to edit. If you've ever saved a draft, trying to find it again is nearly impossible. Good writing takes time, often several drafts, and editing. Blogger is better set up for that. I think FB Notes are probably ideal for 100 words or less things.
05 September 2009
At the time he was the most famous man in Israel, a man whom most Israelites would have seen as their leader. His staff had created wonders in Egypt. He was the mouthpiece of Moses, his shy, stuttering brother, who was in turn the mouthpiece of God. As I wrote before, Aaron was a man of greatness, but not a man of Destiny.
Why was this? I must admit, I admire Aaron. I enjoy being in front of people; I think I would jump at the chance to lead God's people and perform great wonders. Yet time and again in my life, often at the very point where I felt that God was ready for me to take that next step in His service, I have instead been held back. The skills and talents seem to be there, but Destiny isn't. Studying the life of Aaron helps to uncover the wrinkles in God's plan, and it helps me to understand a little more of my place there.
When Moses leaves his brother--for probably the first time since their reunion at the base of Sinai a year earlier--it is to climb to the mountain's summit in the company of Joshua, his aide. Aaron returns with Hur to look over the camp (24.12-14).
I imagine shy Moses glowing with pride at these instructions for his brother, whom God mentions 37 times by name in chapters 28-31. God also names the son of Aaron's co-regent, Hur, as the one who will craft the sacred furniture for the Tabernacle.
But a strange thing happens at the very time that God says, "Have Aaron your brother brought to you from among the Israelites...so [he] may serve me as priest" (28.1). A religious festival has begun, and the faint sound of dancing echoes to the top of the mountain. How could this happen--and under Aaron's watch no less?
The Golden Calf
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go down, because yor people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves and idol cast in the shape of a calf" (Exodus 32.7-8)
A close look at the text reveals some interesting weaknesses on Aaron's part--and affirms one of the theses I have made to this point. Aaron, the man who had stood up to Pharaoh, whose staff had consumed those of the best magicians, is apparently unable to say "No" to the people, his people.They ask, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." (verse 1, italics added). Can it be any clearer who the leader of Israel is--at least in the minds of the people? "This fellow Moses"--few have seen him, far fewer have heard him deliver an order. It has all been Aaron's leading in their eyes.
Of course this would be a good opportunity for Aaron to unveil the brains behind this operation--or at least look to God for leading. Instead he compromises--seeking a middle way between outright idolatry and public approval. He gathers gold from the people and builds the calf they wanted (some form of the Apis bulls who were mummified by Egyptians at their deaths). He also orders an altar to be built (he has been serving as a quasi-priest for Israel since long before his brother returned). "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord," he insists (v 5). Is he clueless? I'll try to be kind and just insist that he is woefully incompetent for this interim job.
Aaron spins a 2nd story when Moses returns. "You know how prone these people are to evil," he explains. "They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" (verses 22 & 24). Did he wave a wand or something? The process of building any given idol could be described as "deliberate." Either a huge cast was made for the liquefied metal, or the metal had to be layered over a wooden or stone base. To a modern person, this would be like saying, "They gave me metal, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this dishwasher!"
A few hours later, Aaron begins to atone...and it involves a lot of blood--human blood. The party hasn't let up with Moses' return--few people noticed the tablets smashed or the small, angry man who stuttered with fury when he looked upon them. God knows how to end it. With the other Levites, Aaron meets Moses at one end of the camp with his sword drawn. Following God's orders they break into houses of feasting, dancing and lovemaking. They "kill...brother[s] and friend[s] and neighbor[s]," over 3,000 before the noise dies down (28). God follows this with a plague that will punish them "because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made" (35).
I may be projecting too much, but this episode demonstrates to me a fundamental weakness of Aaron--and of myself at times. He doesn't see himself as a partner. Deep down inside, he's the leader. The Israelites are perfectly willing to accommodate his vanity. Moses would have stopped this; God would have, too; maybe even young Joshua would have stood up to the people, but Aaron casts their offerings into the fire and out jumps a calf.
Of course this only widens the gulf of the people's perception of the two brothers. Moses is the one always saying, "No--says the Lord." Aaron is accommodating and friendly. Moses orders; Aaron listens. It won't be the last test of leadership for Aaron, that is certain.
The Siblings' Coup
The writer of Numbers puts the blame on both Aaron and Miriam, but later events bear out Miriam's leadership in this coup. It was a case of greatness again. Aaron appeared to be the leader--and Miriam had had her moment--one of the all-time great moments in songwriting--with her inspired singing outside the Red Sea. Why couldn't they lead? Surely the Lord had used them, too.
That leads to this revealing note in Numbers 12.3: "Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth." This small, shy man suddenly has no one to speak for him--or to sing for him--his speaker and his singer are in open revolt.
That's why God steps in, summoning Aaron and Miriam to the front of the Tabernacle, surrounding them with cloud, and speaking directly to them. "With [Moses] I speak face to face.... He sees the form of the Lord" (verse 8).
This is the dichotomy, then. Aaron the High Priest channels the Hidden Lord, dressed in priestly robes, cleansing the Most Holy Place every year on the Day of Atonement. Moses sees God face to face. God speaks through all whom He has chosen. Yet Moses, and his unique, hidden, behind-the-scenes role, was specially chosen. Aaron was High Priest. He had the most visible leadership role in the camp. Why did he feel compelled to covet Moses' insider role, too?
When the cloud lifts, Miriam is leprous. Aaron describes it vividly, "like a stillborn infant coming from its mother's womb with its flesh half eaten away" (v 12). Again Aaron is the peacemaker. He is in his role of "not too evil, not too good." He intercedes for his sister with Moses (he himself has not been stricken, implying that his role in the plot was not as great as Miriam's). Moses intercedes with God. The brothers' roles are clear now: Aaron is minister to the people; Moses listens to God.
One Final Miracle with the Staff
Just as Miriam had complained, "Does not God speak through us, too?" Korah believes in the "priesthood of all believers." A Christian might consider him ahead of his time, but Moses sees another challenge to his leadership. He dares the rebels to test the Lord by burning incense before him. Then he steps back as the earth swallows up Korah and the plot leaders and fire comes from heaven to burn up the other illicit, incense-wielding priests.
The next day God summons Aaron to wield incense throughout the camp, making atonement for the sins of the self-ordained priests. This really is a walk back through Aaron's own errors. The memory of his own rebellion must be very fresh as he thinks of those consumed by earth and fire. As he walks between the tents of the suffering, he must remember the 3,000 "brothers, friends and neighbors" he and his fellow Levites had massacred as they quelled the riot around the Golden Calf.
At one time he might have led such a rebellion. Now Aaron knows his place. Moses knows it, too. Aaron is the Leader of Israel. The miracle of the twelve staffs emphasizes two points about Israel's leadership: first, Aaron is indeed chosen by God for his role as High Priest; second, Moses apparently doesn't factor into the chain of command at all. He isn't the leader of the Levites or of Israel--Aaron is. He is merely the mouthpiece of God.
Aaron's rod--the same rod that consumed the magicians' staffs, that had turned the Nile to blood and had summoned frogs from its rust-colored waters--it blooms. God has spoken--beautifully. Moses places it in the sacred box in the Most Holy Place--the sacred room entered only once a year, by Aaron alone, where a big smile must break across his face as he cleans and performs his sacred duties. More than anything Aaron had said or done, this flowering staff conveyed God's call, the sole source of Aaron's authority.
This shows me that I need to be aware of the true signs of Destiny that God provides. It may not show up in my role in the organizational chart or in awards or public accolades. It may be found in some everyday thing--my child, my talent, my smallest gift--that blooms in the light of God's approval.
Aaron and Me
She's right. I love to sing high harmony. But sometimes it's a little frustrating. I want to lead. Sure, Jenny can sing alto quite well, but it doesn't sound the same. Only when I back off and sing high can we work together as a duo.
That's not the only place where I have been called to be "great, just not THAT great." There have been a number of times where I have tried to lead our family down my career course. All have ended in disaster. At best, I have found myself at career dead ends. At worst, I've lost my job.
Yet God has blessed us richly when we followed Jenny's call, first to Superior, Arizona, then to Westmoreland, TN. More importantly, I have been able to strengthen her work when we have followed her lead. It's a natural, God-led thing--yet it is one that I have resisted on occasion, just as Aaron battled with his leadership role.
I can't say that I'm particularly emboldened by my destiny, and I don't go around bragging about my meager career accomplishments. I can say, though, that I'm glad to be a part of a God-ordained team. He led me to Jenny, and our partnership has created three excellent Dittes kids, and touched the lives of literally thousands of other people.
The non-canonical Jewish work, the Haggadah contains a beautiful description of Aaron's death:
Accompanied by Moses, his brother, and by Eleazar, his son, Aaron went to the summit of Mount Hor, where the rock suddenly opened before him and a beautiful cave lit by a lamp presented itself to his view.
"Take off thy priestly raiment and place it upon thy son Eleazar!" said Moses; "and then follow me." Aaron did as commanded; and they entered the cave, where was prepared a bed around which angels stood.
"Go lie down upon thy bed, my brother," Moses continued; and Aaron obeyed without a murmur. Then his soul departed as if by a kiss from God.
Source: the Jewish Encyclopedia
Eleazar and Moses returned without the High Priest, and the entire nation of Israel burst into mourning. "The entire house of Israel mourned for [Aaron] thirty days" (Numbers 20.29). He died the most famous man among his people. Many commentators feel that the Israelites' mourning for Aaron went beyond the mourning for Moses that would take place when he died a few years later (They use a translation that I can't find in my NIV, but apparently older documents show that men AND women mourned for Aaron, while it was only the leaders and men who observed the mourning period for Moses.)
Aaron was called to a specific role in Israel's Exodus: it was a role of greatness, but not of destiny. He struggled with this role at times, he even rebelled, but in the end he was at peace with his place in God's presence and at his brother's side.
There just isn't enough space here to do Aaron justice. I want to focus on him as a father and a High Priest, but that will need to wait for another Sabbath day's meditation. It gives me something to look forward to this week.