Have you ever gone camping? It’s been a long time for me. I suspect that the thrill of sleeping on the ground under the protection of fabric, no matter how waterproof, starts to dwindle after a certain age. Camping is a tame way for us to have an adventure, among other benefits.
I remember going on camping trips as a Boy Scout. I had a lot of fun. And my experiences helped shape the way I view camping.
But have you considered that persons without a home built from more permanent materials might not find camping to be so much a thrill as a necessity? Living in a tent can be a vacation, or it can be a necessity, depending on your circumstances.
We read about a large group of people living in tents for years in the Bible. We find these stories in the Book of Exodus. This book follows Genesis, which begins with the story of creation. Exodus is a story about people escaping slavery with the help of the very God who did the creating in Genesis. The cries of despair coming from an oppressed people was too much for God to ignore.
Moses was one of them, but he had escaped oppression by being adopted into a family that was part of the privileged class of people. Those responsible for the oppression. Moses was an outsider to both groups. Yet God chose Moses, who believed along with a lot of other people, that he was unqualified. Nevertheless, Moses gives in to God’s argument, and the whole bunch ends up living in tents in the wilderness. Starting over from scratch. Led by Moses, who was led by a distant God.
Realizing that the people needed God to be more available, the people are instructed to build a meeting tent. A place for God to dwell among God’s people. The Good News Translation calls it the “Tent of the Lord’s Presence.” A thin place where heaven and earth hangout together. While the tent may be in a rather challenging neighborhood, the inside of the tent was nothing like the hood. It is nothing like any other place on earth.
Except, it is like all other places.
God speaking through Moses gave specific instructions for decorations. For example, in Exodus 26:1, 31, and 36, we read a description of a woven fabric — fine linen woven with blue, purple, and red wool. We find this description again in Exodus 27:16. Why fine linen from a blend of cool and warm colors? Why wool?
Scripture contains precise instructions. The various pieces of woven fine linen in three colors is for the inside walls, a curtain, and each of the double-entrances. An otherwise stark, tent is made, more colorful, more diverse.
Isn’t it fascinating that God chose a temporary place, a tent, to hang out with these folks? By using a tent, they could take it wherever they wandered. And they wandered a lot during that time. In search of a promise, God made to them. A promise much like the promise made to their ancestor, Abraham. But anyone who has packed and unpacked yards of woven fabric knows that there are wear and tear. Some threads start to unravel.
Later, the Israelites moved from a tent to a Temple during the time of King Solomon. An era of prosperity, power, and extravagance. The leaders “rewarded” God by using some of their treasures to adorn the temple. People are still doing this. Rewarding God’s generosity by decorating a place fo the Lord’s presence. Keeping God content with hanging out in a divine meeting space, away from the activities that resulted in accumulating the extravagance.
The problem is that like the original tent, the temples, and thousands of divine meeting places built ever since, we confuse what God wants with our own desires. And these desires come out of our own sculpted-ness. Long after the Temple in Jerusalem was built, Jesus stood on those very stones. Jesus looked at the beautiful structure and declared, “I tell you this: not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2).
Not a single stone here will be left in its place; every one of them will be thrown down.
No matter how durable the material we choose to contain God, all attempts to contain God are eventually futile. The fabric begins to unravel. And God hangs out wherever God chooses to hang out.
What if this idea of a place for the Lord to hang out, whether a tent or a stone castle, is a metaphor for you and I. Let me explain.
Last week I laid the groundwork for helping us to recognize that each of us lives in a “fishbowl” that is built during our early childhood, adolescence, and even into adulthood. And that we interpret the world through our experiences in our fishbowl. Like the fish, we don’t realize that we are wet. We don’t realize how much our experiences shaped our worldview.
Jesus was adopted into a long line of ancestors, dating back to Abraham, Jesus grew up in a Jewish household and community. He was educated in Egyptian schools, spent his teenage years in a small village called Nazareth, and used stories from His experiences to illustrate the points of His teachings. And we interpret the words of Jesus from a totally different context. Our fishbowl is different than the fishbowl that shaped Jesus. Our neighborhood is different than the one where the former Egyptian slaves first set up a tent for God to hang out.
Similarly, the stories of Matthew Vines and Josh McKerrow are different than our stories and the story of Jesus. They each lived in a fishbowl determined by where they lived, where they went to church, their families, their communities, and the society and culture that shaped them. Josh grew up in Sidney, Australia, while Matthew grew up in Wichita, Kansas. Joel’s family attends an Anglican Church, while Matthew’s family attends a Presbyterian church. Both men had light skin and knew privilege. Jesus, on the other hand, attended a synagogue and likely had a darker skin tone. 1 2
Matthew and Josh write about learning absolute truths that were taught to them. And they each accepted these truths as children without question. These truths came out of how the place where their families went to hang out with God. Their church. And they were shaped by the way their families interpreted the very same Biblical text.
Putting aside whatever differences there may have been in the translations, there were universal truths in each man’s upbringing. For example, neither learned the truths that are hidden by privilege. Their families interpreted scripture through the lens of a dominant culture. Jesus, as a Jew, grew up in a land occupied by foreign soldiers and leaders. Jesus grew up among oppressed people.
To interpret the world through our sculpted self is to know the things we know with little doubt. Even though we haven’t given much thought to where such absolute knowledge comes from. When the world is full of unanswerable questions, it is comforting to have absolute truth to count on. So our sculpted selves become obsessed with what is truth and what is not. But our sculpted selves do not reach further than our own boundaries;
The reality is this. Our beliefs about God come from the particular biblical interpretation given by our specific Christian tradition, mixed in with the influence of culture. We believe what we believe because we have been shaped to find truth only in certain places. And this can be a tricky proposition to swallow. The idea that our claims to truth are actually shaped by our culture. It is humbling to recognize our own bias.
Our truths are the collections of claims that come out of our fishbowl of existence. Claims that we defend. McKerrow writes, “If we defend our fishbowls as absolute, they become the very thing that inhibits our further movement. They become our safety and our crutch. Our absolutes become our idols.” 1
Our absolute truths become our idols? Can we really put a belief ahead of God? I asked the question two weeks ago, “What are you willing to die for?” Are we willing to die for our absolute truth? Are we instead able to admit that we could have it wrong? After all, it is not the first time that the church has confused absolute truth with fear and the desire to control.
McKerrow also writes about attitudes in his country towards immigrants. They also use labels to identify persons who find a way into their country uninvited. Labels, according to McKerrow, is “Our way of choosing not to listen to those who are not of our fishbowl.” When we label a group of people, we are better able to defend what we believe to be true. While there are pragmatic and economic arguments against open borders, there is also an underlying fear that gives these argument power beyond their logic.
Our truths are the collections of claims that come out of our fishbowl of existence.
Our attitudes toward subjects like immigration are sculpted. They are integral parts of our fishbowl. And labeling people and ideas help us to ignore who they are outside of our label. As a nation, we recently experienced what happens to mothers and their children when people in power can declare war against a label rather than the actual people that the labels represent.
Children are ripped from their mother’s arms and locked behind bars. Mothers are imprisoned for trying to do what any good mother does — protect her children. But when labels dissolve into faces and voices and stories we have to fight harder to hold onto our beliefs. We are confronted with flesh and blood, kindred-spirits, children of the same God that we claim to follow. The same God who hangs out in whatever “Tent of the Lord’s Presence” where we go.
Whatever tent that you visit where you hope to meet the God who created you, you run a risk. You run a risk that you will leave the tent knowing something that you didn’t know before that may change how you see the world. In two weeks, we will move from looking at how we are sculpted to what happens in meeting places all over the world when people actually take the time to hang out with the Lord.
I invite you to hang out with us in the tent of the Lord’s presence that we call Asbury. We meet each Sunday at 10:30 am. I hope to see you there. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
If you haven’t yet signed up for the Daniel Plan, be sure to do so.3 Each person living in our community who signs up receives your very own copy of The Daniel Plan Journal.4 If you are not a part of the Asbury Community, we still invite you to participate with us, but we ask that you purchase a copy on your own. These journals can be purchased on Amazon or from other vendors. You can also go to the DanielPlan.com store to buy this and other resources.
1 McKerrow, Joel. Woven: A faith for the dissatisfied. Sidney, Australia: Acorn Press, 2019.
2 Vines, Matthew. God and the Gay Christian. New York: Convergent, 2014.
3 Warren, Rick, Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Mark Hyman. The Daniel Plan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
4 Warren, Rick, and the Daniel Plan Team. The Daniel Plan Journal – 40 Days to a Healthier Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.