When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”
17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed. ’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” (1 Samuel 15:13-19, NRSV)
The last two weeks have been filled with riveting excitement, stunning defeats, shocking betrayal, hidden infidelity and public scandal. We took a break last week from posting in reflection and honor of the veterans who served our country. In spite of that noble cause, we have been witness to the most peculiar set of events in modern times. All of which bear an interesting symptomatic footprint familiar to many of our lives. I want us to first look at our symptoms:
Election 2012. The results of the election on November 6th were shocking to many in this country. The fact that the Republican Party lost the White House by wide margins and all of its Senate prospects, so shocked aspects of the electorate that some officials declared a state of mourning for the Party. The core issue that lead to this shock (and the loss) that has been posited by some centers on the changing reality of the American electorate. Never before in American politics has a President been elected with less than 40% of the White electorate. Some commentators (and even the some elected officials) suggested the loss of “traditional America” and that we have lost something that never can be regained.
The disease manifests itself in a retelling of a myth for victory and success in American politics and the rejection of critical engagement of the reality in the world. Specifically, the belief in the supremacy of campaigning on a racialized electorate and the manipulation of partisan ethnic agendas could triumph over ideas. The construction of this reality devoid of facts and constructive narratives makes a false worldview that got shattered on November 6th.
Superstorm Sandy. The week prior to the election, the east coast of the US was pummeled by an unprecedented storm that reminded all of us of our fragility before nature. The illusion of humanity’s control of seashores, waterfronts and subterranean transit systems was shattered when Gotham itself was under 14 feet of water. THe stunning images and the challenges that have been experienced by citizens of New York and New Jersey (not to mention the 3 feet of snow that fell in West Virginia) reminded all of us that building communities on flood plains and sea islands is never smart.
Our dysfunction about creation and our unmitigated manipulation of its resources continues to undermine our relationship with our planet. We do REAL harm when we disregard our use of natural resources, pollute the environment and destroy ecosystems. We are irresponsible and negligent when we seek to bend the reality of our behaviors around prisms of politics and selfish economic systems.
Petraeus Scandal. We once and again find ourselves with the same ol’ story line. A powerful man with a prominent public image conducts secret life that undermines everything he supposedly stands for. Change the characters, the context and the story seems to never go away. CIA Director General David Petraeus and his months long affair with his biographer rocked the nation on the heals of the reelection of the President. Allegations of cover ups, leaks and manipulation all followed after he resigned for “failure to live up to the standards of the office.” Likewise, the exposure of several prominent military officials to the scandalous trysts and email communiques convey a general culture of elitism and laissez-faire among some of the most powerful people in the world.
The disease manifests in individuals who have no sense of their frailty around unethical behavior and unfaithful conduct. Regardless of the circumstances, conducting a secret affair and a secret life is too much for anyone to handle. Yet, people who go about participating that behavior are the same persons who see themselves as untouchable and incapable of fault.
Taken individually, each of one of these incidents seem to be failures of their own design. Whether political, relational and/or a fault of character, these moments can be seen as simple miscalculations, mere arrogance or just hubris. However, when we approach these incidents through the lens of our text, we can posit a deeper meaning to the disease at work.
The above passage comes the Saul narrative of 1 Samuel. In those narratives, Saul was chosen by God to serve as King over Israel, in spite of God’s provision and Samuel the prophet’s warning to Israel. Saul’s story as king is not a good one, and we find here the culmination of God’s rejection of Saul’s leadership. As king, Saul failed to carry out the divine directive of ‘ethnic cleansing’ toward the Amalekites. Saul instead leaves the best animals for himself and his men. The encounter between Saul and Samuel comes to a head in the above exchange.
This exchange is really about the two version of reality that Saul and God/Samuel are wrestling over. In the exchange, Saul own words give rise to the fact that he is a liar and out to serve a different focus and objective than what God intended for the king. The central diagnosis of Saul’s condition is found in Samuel’s statement in verse 17, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” Saul’s failure as a leader stems from his myopia toward his role and responsibility in Israel. Saul, a towering specimen of Israelite masculinity, acts as a small and insignificant man doing things in his own universes as if they have no consequences.
Like us, Saul has a myopic view and is only willing to see that which is amenable to his worldview. In an age when propaganda passes for journalism through the mouths of MSNBC and FOX News, we can choose the voice that best constructs the world we want to live in. Our given selection of propaganda means we no longer have to listen to dissenting opinion or the hard truth of a situation. Instead, we can use the selected reading or version of the facts to arrive at the predetermined destination with confidence and assurety of our rightness (and righteousness).
When science is more about political expediency and economics, and not about the facts proven through testing, it’s no wonder we think we can live anywhere and are shocked at the devastation when nature reclaims her territory. There are nearly 7 billion people living at the same time in the world today. To argue that our presence on the planet has little or no affect is worse than myopia, its BLINDNESS!! Our quest for new homes has not affected forests? Our burning of fossil fuels has not affected our breathing? Our fishing of the seas has not affected the population of sea creatures and their migration patterns? (How many sushi places our in your neighborhood?)
When we decide that our lifestyle and personal behavior doesn’t need to be regulated simply because of our position in life requires little ethical policing, our hubris will be our demise. It isn’t that David Petreaus or Paula Broadwell is any better or worse than we are. In fact, we are like them more than we care to admit. We believe that our public selves can behave in a disconnected way from our private selves and therefore the ethics of each can be regulated however we see fit. (“If Samuel didn’t see me carry out the mission God gave, then what he doesn’t know won’t get back to God!”, Saul seems to think.)
The disease is tunnel vision- the loss of peripheral vision resulting in a singular line of sight to which one cannot take in external sources of vision and light apart from a direct focus. We see what we want to see and ignore all other sources of information and thought. Total loss of sight is immanent unless medical treatment or an intervention is possible on behalf of the patient. In our case, we are the patient and we must to see the truth that is constantly all around. Stare the facts in the face and come to a collective agreement about what we see in order to take action for our future.
I once heard one of my relatives say, “Opened eyes make for a willing vessel”. I like to say, “sighted eyes see the visions of truth”…