The last thing I thought I needed in the fall of 1986 was a girlfriend. When the Army had assigned me to Germany three years earlier, I half expected that I might find the woman of my dreams there. A few fun-but-fruitless relationships later, I realized that this process was more complicated that I thought, and far more difficult. And so, when I made my way to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, at the beginning of November for the next phase of my military career, I determined that it would be better to get a dog than find a girlfriend. Oddly enough (seeing that God has quite the sense of humor), it was nearly thirty more years before I would get a dog, but the woman of my dreams was only days away from walking into my life.
It happened on Sunday, November 9, 1986, at the First Baptist Church of Sierra Vista, Arizona. Charlayne was among the single young adults in the Sunday School class that morning, but her presence didn’t register with me until that evening, when I joined the church at the evening worship service. That’s when this vision of loveliness came bounding down the aisle to give me a hug and welcome me into the congregation. She also invited me to go out with all the singles to the Village Inn for pie. It was an unexpected, but very agreeable, invitation. What was more unexpected, and even more agreeable, was how quickly we became good friends. Within days we were dating, and within six weeks we were engaged.
I tell people that we were engaged by decree of my mother-in-law, and it’s true. Both of us had plans for our lives that a serious relationship would disrupt. As we grew closer and closer, the thought of those disruptions caused us no end of distress, until one Sunday afternoon they brought us to the brink of panic. We asked her parents to come over and talk with us. They sat in her apartment listening to us talk things out for about an hour and a half, and then her mother said the last thing I expected: “Well, it seems to me you kids need to get married.”
Many times in my life, a sense of peace has settled over me, indicating that God’s answer in the present predicament had been revealed. That moment in Charlayne’s apartment was one of the first, and is still one of the most profound, of those occasions. When her mother said the one thing we had dared not consider, we knew it was right, and it was holy. We were married some months later, and after 31 years we remain true to the covenant that established our household when we were young.
I do not recall whether any woman other than Char has ever captured my attention in any way that might cause her to be a rival to the wife of my youth. I have had many female friends and coworkers, some of whom have been quite attractive, but in all those years, I cannot remember a time when any of them attracted me in any inappropriate way. Perhaps I am peculiar in that regard; I have known many situations when such attractions severely damaged and even ended the marriages of people I knew. In our culture, we do not look favorably on unfaithfulness to the marriage covenant. For reasons grounded in Scripture, we in the West have, since time immemorial, taken seriously and literally the words of Moses and Yeshua (Jesus) that a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife as one flesh. Even King Henry VIII of England could not get around those words. When his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, could not produce a male heir, he annulled the marriage and took Anne Boleyn. When she produced no male heir, he found a reason to have her executed (one can do that if one is a king), and replaced her with Jane Seymour. She became mother to his only son, but died only days later. Henry’s next wife, Anne of Cleves, was so young and innocent that he chose to annul the marriage rather than consummate it. In her place, he married Catherine Howard, a young-but-not-so-innocent woman whose flirtatious behavior eventually cost her her head. That left Catherine Parr, the wife who outlived the old king.
I learned the tale of Henry VIII as a boy, thanks to a classic BBC miniseries about his life. It struck me as odd that Martin Luther himself had stated his preference that the king commit bigamy and marry Anne Boleyn rather than divorce the first Catherine. Henry did not adopt Luther’s prescription as far as I can tell, but chose annulment instead. It helped that Catherine was Spanish and Catholic; in one stroke, he ended a cumbersome political entanglement and its attendant religious fetters. When the Roman Church refused to grant the annulment (perhaps because the reigning pope was at that time a prisoner of Catherine’s nephew, Emperor Charles V), Henry simply declared England separate from Rome and established the Anglican Church.
It is the stuff of soap operas, but it is our history. So also are the tales of the patriarchs and many great men of the Bible. Abraham, Jacob, Elkanah, David, Solomon, and the kings of Judah and Israel seemed to have no trouble taking multiple wives. After all, there is no Scriptural prohibition against polygamy. The closest thing to a prohibition that appears in the Bible is Paul’s advice to Titus and Timothy that congregational elders should have but one wife. I surmise that Paul’s wise counsel came not merely from his extensive knowledge of the Torah and the traditions of the elders, but his experience in guiding the many congregations forming in the Mediterranean world of his day. Perhaps that experience is what motivated him to write what I believe is the best word on this matter:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NASB)
Lawful, but not profitable. Is that not the lesson of the Patriarchs? King Henry VIII may have been thinking about the woeful consequences in the households of those men – consequences that included incest, murder, extreme sibling rivalry, jealousy, and all manner of dysfunction. I saw the same phenomenon when I studied the Ottoman Empire. No prince who attained the sultanate was safe as long as his half brothers from his father’s other wives were still alive. King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia understood this quite well, which is why he arranged for his sons from his many wives to rule sequentially so that none of them would be the father of a new dynasty. The last of those sons is on the throne in Riyadh today, sixty-five years after his father’s death.
I do not know much about the wives of these polygamous kings, whether of ancient Israel, Ottoman Turkey, or modern Saudi Arabia. The best commentary I heard came from a Saudi amir whose hospitality I enjoyed in 1990, while I served with the army deployed there to defend his country from Iraqi aggression. Over the course of our conversation, the question of Muslim views on marriage came up. Multiple wives entered into the religious culture of Islam because it was already a cultural institution in Arabia. Muhammad seems to have endeavored to regulate the practice, which is why the custom is to limit a man to four wives. What the life of those wives is like, I do not know, but I have heard some terrible things. What I do know is that this kindly amir who had invited us into his home told us that, for some reason which he confessed he did not understand, his sons wanted to depart from the precedent of his household. They believed, he said, that it would be better to marry only one wife, and that only for love.
This is an interesting perspective when compared with something I heard from an American friend of mine. He lives in close proximity to polygamous families of the Mormon faith. They are nice people, he says, but the practice of polygamy has served only to oppress the women and disrupt the families. Is that a consistent result of multiple wives in one family? Or is it the result of imposing such a model on a culture that is accustomed to one man marrying one woman for life? This I cannot say.
What I can say is that many cultures do have marriage practices that differ from my own. This came to my attention in an unusual way in 2009 upon the election of former president Jacob Zuma of South Africa. Another friend of mine, founder of an influential prayer ministry, sent out a notice asking prayer for Mr. Zuma and his wives (four at the time). She did not issue that notice in a judgmental way, but rather in the same way as she had done when asking prayer for other heads of state. It just so happened that this one was polygamous. It was merely a statement of fact: this particular president of this particular country needed prayer for himself in his new role, and for his family, which happened to include several wives and children by them.
I think my friend did well in asking for such prayer in the usual way. Another friend of mine tells me that we will encounter many followers of Yeshua in Africa and other places who genuinely love God and love their many wives. It is their culture. He, himself, comes from a native culture in America that is matrilineal, and whose marriage norms are different from those of my Scottish, Irish, and English ancestors. I do not understand such a culture, nor do I desire to adopt it, nor is there a need to do so. At the same time, there is no need to impose my culture on his. Such a thing would be unhealthy at best, and genocidal at worst (another sad fact I cannot ignore from our history).
Where, then, does this leave me? It leaves me with the wife of my youth. Charlayne has satisfied me in every way. Why would I seek another to take her place, or to share me with her? It is not my culture. It is not right to her, to our children, and to the many people whom we have enriched through our example as man and wife. Neither is it consistent with the vows we both took to establish our marriage covenant. When I married her, my father said to me, “We McCarns marry for keeps.” Now, over 30 years later, I know the great wisdom of his words.
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2018. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
It takes a conscious effort for me to bless an elderly person whose slow, feeble steps are impeding my progress. The default position in my mind is to examine possibilities for hastening the moment when I can get them out of my way. Much though I am reluctant to admit it, that default position amounts to a curse aimed at removing an obstacle to my own selfish definition of happiness. That is why I am cultivating the habit of blessing the gray head. I have lived enough years to know that each of those gray hairs was purchased at great cost, both in joy and in sorrow. Who am I to ridicule those transactions in time and sweat and blood and tears, seeing that I, too, engage in those same transactions every moment of every day?
This is the way of all flesh, and it scares us. We do not like to consider the fact that we all are destined to grow old – provided something does not take us out before our time. That reality first dawned on me as a teenager, watching my once-vigorous grandfather lie helpless in a hospital bed, swollen with the fluids that would eventually crush his heart. Then there was my mother, whose loud and lively voice was silenced in the last weeks of her life by the feeding tube the doctors inserted in a desperate attempt to help her recover. And my father? The pain there was watching his brilliant mind lose its ability to remember, until at last he could recall nothing more than the blissful sleep of eternity.
Surely growing old is not for the faint of heart. Solomon understanding of this led him to a very wise conclusion:
Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”:
While the sun and the light, the moon and the stars, are not darkened, and the clouds do not return after the rain;
In the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men bow down;
When the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look through the windows grow dim;
When the doors are shut in the streets, and the sound of grinding is low;
When one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of music are brought low.
Also they are afraid of height, and of terrors in the way;
When the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper is a burden, and desire fails.
For man goes to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets.
(Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 NKJV)
Careful reading of Solomon’s poetry reveals his references to weak and aching muscles, brittle bones, dim eyes, deaf ears, rotting teeth, jaded spirit, and broken heart. It is enough to drive one to desperation – which is why Solomon begins this passage with an exhortation to remember the Creator while we can. Without the Creator and the hope He imparts, we face a terrifying descent into debility before we cease breathing.
Which explains why each generation since Adam has wished so intently for the resurrection.
Many people realized the significance of Ken Rank’s letter to the Jewish people when he published it last week. We have only begun to see the impact of it. Within a few short days it appeared as a guest blog piece in The Times of Israel, and today Breaking Israel News published it along with a deeply moving response by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz.
In years to come, when our God has completed His work of bringing together the fragmented parts of His people, these two letters by Ken and Eliyahu will be counted as major milestones in the process of breaking down the wall between those of us from the Christian side and our brethren from the Jewish side.
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
October 11, 2016
Originally published on Breaking Israel News
I received this letter from Ken Rank last week. Rank founded United 2 Restore in order to bring Jews and Christians, or as he prefers to describe it, Judah and Ephraim closer together, in order to “re-build bridges of communication which have been previously burned”. He sent me this letter as part of his personal teshuvah (repentance) for Yom Kippur. My response to him was sincere, and I intend for it to be a part of my Yom Kippur prayers.
מַּטּוֹת / מַסְעֵי
William Shakespeare has such as way with murder. With so many characters meeting violent death in his plays it would seem that he regarded murder as an essential part of good drama. Richard III is an excellent example. When my daughter studied the play in school, she and her fellow students kept a “body count” of the many characters who died over the course of Richard’s rise to power. Shakespeare’s preoccupation with murder may have been the product of the violent world in which he lived, and indeed England in the 16th century was a violent place, yet we need only look at the headlines of events in our own cities to realize that our world is no less violent than Shakespeare’s. If the Bard had no qualms about employing murder as a plot device, it was because his art imitated life. Richard III was a historical play based on events that shook the British Isles just one hundred years earlier. The play’s popularity derived in part from the horrendous nature of Richard’s quest for power, extending even to allegations that in 1483 he ordered the deaths of his two nephews, the 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. Their uncles’ guilt has never been proven, but it is plausible that he removed them so they would not stand in the way of his quest to seize the throne of their father, the late Edward IV.
Richard III is not the only Shakespearian villain to usurp a throne and seize the inheritance of a rightful heir. Two others that come to mind are MacBeth of Scotland and Claudius of Denmark. Although not historical plays, MacBeth and Hamlet have roots in actual events. The central action of MacBeth occurs when the warrior of that name murders King Duncan of Scotland. Duncan’s sons, fearing they will be blamed for the murder, flee the country, allowing Macbeth to take the throne. In Hamlet, we do not see the murder of Denmark’s king; when the play opens his brother Claudius has already seized the throne by killing him and marrying his queen. The plot follows Prince Hamlet as he learns the truth of his father’s death and his uncle’s guilt.
As was necessary for Richard III, MacBeth and Claudius must deal with the heirs to the murdered kings. MacBeth prepares to defend Scotland against the exiled princes Malcolm and Donalbain, and Claudius concocts a plot to have Hamlet killed in a duel by an opponent wielding a poisoned blade. In the end all three villains meet violent deaths. Richard and MacBeth fall in battle as their own countrymen rise in revolt against them, and Claudius is slain by Hamlet himself just before the young prince dies.
Shakespeare’s works have remained popular for over 400 years because they really do imitate life, even to a disturbing degree. In these plays we see that an inheritance is not secure even if there are sons ready to claim their fathers’ legacy. What worse things might the villains have done had there been no sons and heirs? Who would ensure that the bereaved family retained their place in the nation? That very question prompted the tribe of Manasseh to ask Moses for guarantees not only for their brethren who had no sons, but for the entire tribe’s legacy in the Promised Land.
One of the great depictions of American historical events is John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, which hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol. The scene captures the moment on June 28, 1776, when the five men who drafted the Declaration present their work to the Continental Congress. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, 42 appear in Trumbull’s work, the others having died before he could obtain their images. The painting also depicts five men who did not sign, including Robert Livingston of New York. Livingston was one of the men who drafted the Declaration, but New York recalled him from the Congress before he could sign his work. In Trumbull’s painting Livingston appears in the center of the drafting committee, with Roger Sherman of Connecticut on his right and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia on his left. Americans may not remember the distinguished men from Connecticut and New York, but they do remember Jefferson and John Adams of Massachusetts, two future presidents. Jefferson and Adams embraced different visions of how to govern the infant American Republic, and even though they became political rivals, they remained friends until their deaths on the same day, July 4, 1826.
There is a legend that Jefferson paid Trumbull to paint his foot on top of Adams’, but it is only a legend. The two men’s feet are close together in the picture, and as time and dirt wore away at the painting it came to appear that Jefferson’s foot was resting on Adams’. That is not the only oddity in Trumbull’s work. Like many works of art it is not entirely accurate, but is effective in capturing the spirit of the moment and of the age. So also is 1776, a musical play which humorously explores the events during that fateful summer of American independence. Howard DaSilva dominates the film version with his portrayal of Dr. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania. If we are to believe the movie, independence was Adams’ idea, and the declaration was expressed in Jefferson’s words, but it was Franklin who brought it into being with his wisdom, wit, and ability to achieve consensus. 1776 embellishes the story with fictional dialogue, but it captures a number of famous quotes by the Founding Fathers, including Franklin’s immortal words: “If we do not hang together, we shall most assuredly hang separately!”
Dr. Franklin spoke a warning to a people facing the threat of political extinction before they could become a nation. Long before Franklin uttered his warning, Yeshua of Nazareth spoke the same truth to the people He had come to redeem from the threat of extinction by the enemy of their souls:
And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. (Matthew 12:25 NASB; see also Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:49-50, 11:16-23)
Professor J.R.R. Tolkien insisted that there was no hidden meaning behind his works on Middle Earth. Such was his assertion in his Foreword to The Lord of the Rings:
I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse ‘applicability’ with ‘allegory’; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, Foreword to the Second Edition of The Lord of the Rings
Yet there are allegorical elements throughout his writings, however unintended. Tolkien’s Catholic world view infused his work with well-known Christian concepts such as atonement, salvation, redemption, and fulfillment of prophecy. A consistent story line appears throughout his writing, repeated on several levels. It is the story of paradise defiled, of blessed people tempted by evil into betrayal of their calling, of their exile and dissolution, and their restoration at last after the struggles of their exile produce the required degree of contrition and of resolve to live up to their destiny. In The Silmarillion the tale plays out in the long defeat of the Noldor in their forlorn quest to regain the Silmarils from Morgoth the defiler of Middle Earth. The cycle ends and begins anew in their redemption beyond all hope by the Valar, the powers over the earth who had exiled the Noldor from the blessed realm of Valinor because of their rebellion. In The Hobbit it is the restoration of the House of Durin as the Dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield set in motion the events that bring the death of the great dragon Smaug and the coronation of a new Dwarf King Under the Mountain. And in The Lord of the Rings it is the return of Aragorn as King Elessar of Gondor, restoring the long lost (and nearly forgotten) kingdom of the Númenóreans after the defeat of Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.
Among the many things we learn from Tolkien is that things happen in cycles. Life is cyclical, not linear. What happens to the fathers happens to the sons, and what has come before will come again. Whether he realized it or not, that is the Hebraic way of looking at the world. And it is quite biblical. As Solomon, the son of David, teaches us:
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB)
וַיַּקְהֵל / פְקוּדֵיּ
What is the secret of the success of Star Trek? Since 1966 three generations of science fiction fans have followed the adventures of four separate crews on the starship Enterprise, as well as other heroes of Gene Roddenberry’s creation through six TV series and 12 movies. There must be something more to the Star Trek universe than adventure stories, special visual effects, and outlandish aliens. Perhaps it is that Star Trek provides us with an opportunity to imagine, to push the boundaries of what is “real”, at least according to what we encounter in our everyday lives.
Certainly that was a key ingredient in the original series, the popularity of which has long outlived the three short seasons it was on the air. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation picked up the mantle and carried on that boundary-pushing tradition. In “Where No One Has Gone Before”, the fifth episode of its first season, a propulsion expert named Kosinski (Stanley Kamel) comes aboard the USS Enterprise to make modifications to the ship’s engines that will enhance their performance. What we soon learn is that Mr. Kosinski’s equations are meaningless by themselves; the real power behind the modifications is the presence of Kosinski’s assistant, an alien known only as the Traveler (Eric Menyuk). In the first test, the Enterprise moves faster than ever thought possible into a region of space far beyond our galaxy, a result which astonishes not only the ship’s officers, but Kosinski as well. Only young Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) notices the Traveler’s role in the proceedings. As the officers argue among themselves, he draws near to the Traveler to learn the truth. Their conversation includes a very interesting bit of dialogue:
Wesley: Is Mister Kosinski like he sounds? A joke?
Traveler: No, that’s too cruel. He has sensed some small part of it.
Wesley: That space and time and thought aren’t the separate things they appear to be? I just thought the formula you were using said something like that.
Later in the episode, the Traveler explains, “You do understand, don’t you that thought is the basis of all reality? The energy of thought, to put it in your terms, is very powerful.” And with that we have an articulation from a fantastic science fiction television show of a profound truth first explained by Moses 3,500 years ago.
One of the compelling images I recall from childhood is the opening scene of Branded. This Western TV drama starred Chuck Connors as a United States Army officer unjustly charged with cowardice. Week after week the series opened with Jason McCord, Connors’ character, being drummed out of the service at a remote post in the American West. As the garrison assembles, McCord is marched to the front and center of the formation, where his commander removes from him every vestige of his connection with the Army – his hat, rank insignia, and even the buttons on his coat. Last of all the commander removes McCord’s sword from its sheath, breaks it over his knee, and tosses the broken hilt out of the fort’s gate. The shamed officer then walks out of the fort as the doors close behind him. Now on his own, branded for life with the mark of a coward, he must find a way to clear his name.
What if someone had exonerated Jason McCord? Such things have happened before. There is provision in the law to excuse an offender, either when the accusation is proven unjust, or when a duly constituted authority bestows clemency in an act of mercy. The law, however, remains in effect. Should another man, or even the same man, desert his post in an act of cowardice, he would be guilty of the same offence. Even if the entire United States Army deserted, requiring the President to recruit an entirely new force, the deserters would still be guilty according to the statutes and regulations governing the military service. And should the law change somehow, perhaps refining the definition of cowardice and clarifying the penalties, the law would still be in effect, and those subject to it would be wise to learn the changes lest they find themselves inadvertently in error.
How interesting that such a principal gleaned from a 1960s TV Western is actually a principal of the Word of God. While some may argue that the Law of God has no application at all in an age when Messiah Yeshua has won forgiveness for all who believe on Him, in actuality His work of redemption secured a prophesied change in the Law, not its abolition.
Walking Through The Open Gate
An Enduring Standard
We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect. This should not be a surprise. YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him. What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart. When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years. He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
Managing Expectations: Case Studies in God’s Processes
Ancient Hair Care
One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. His story is in Judges 13-16. It begins like this:
Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)