The Two Biggest Stories of 2017

On this last day of 2016, it is quite common for folks to reflect back upon the “year in review” as if to cherish our victories and mourn our losses. News anchors re-view the top news stories of 2016 ad nausea and celebrity deaths seem to be endlessly mourned in this “passing” year. For some more than others, our mourning is more personal. Sad good byes are still holes in the heart aching with every beat. Indeed, some feel especially “beat” up this year, or beat down as is more accurately the case.

But we do have an alternative today, which is to look ahead to 2017 and view the big stories yet to come. Stories or narratives that will in the increasingly (or so it seems to this old dude) short span of 364 days be re-viewed as it, too, shall pass. And we can do both if we so choose. Review the year behind and view the year ahead.

We always have an alternative. We just don’t always real-ize it.

In the space remaining here, I will choose to play the game of “name the new narrative.” The object is to guess the two biggest stories of 2017, and which of them will come out on top.

You’re probably thinking of single events that are up for speculation or anticipation. Predictable events such as the Super Bowl or World Series and such. But, frankly, that’s not the game I’m thinking of at all. I’m thinking of a kind of meta-event that capsulizes the whole of 2017, a larger set of stories that will determine a kind of game-winning narrative.

That said, the first clue I will pick up on in this new year’s stories is that each year builds upon the previous year. Trends matter. Momentum counts. And so one contestant for the game-winner I view as coming our way in 2017 is “Fear Controls.”

You don’t want to hear this, do you? Or read about it? And I don’t blame you!! But the first narrative I can view with eyes wide open has to do with the human experience of fear. There was a lot of it to be experienced in 2016, and there will be even more to come in 2017. The story of fear is real. It comes with change. It comes with uncertainty. And in my 70 years of life looking back vs. ahead, the world is making a more dramatic change politically and socially than at any time since my birth in 1946. World War II was not in my experiential repertoire. So 2017 will be the biggest change globally in my own lifetime, building upon those changes already occurring in 2016. And so the story of fear will soon turn the page into something bigger than I have ever seen before.

With human fear comes the impulse or drive to control. Persons who most fear the unknown are driven to seek authoritarian leadership. It is their way of feeling “under control” in life. And so this story or narrative named fear always has a second name, which is control. Hence, my name for 2017’s narrative#1, which is “fearful control.”

But we have an alternative.

We always have an alternative! The champion always has a challenger!

There is always a counter-narrative! A second story! A potentially better story! And it, too, always builds upon the past and most recent stories already in review. To preview, we must first review. The past is always prologue.

And so the other name I will give to this game-winner in 2017 is “loving influence.” In fact, I will choose even now to declare this to be the winner. The winning story between fear’s control and love’s influence will involve these two separate alternatives for living out the new year. Both sides will compete on this same playing field. It will be a close game. But I have chosen the winner. And it will be “loving influence.” I have chosen this to be the winning narrative for my life in 2017. No matter how many points fear puts on my board, love will have more when it’s all over this time next year.

Here’s the good news. You will choose the winner in your life as well. You will name your own winner for 2017. Consciously or unconsciously, you will pick your own champion. Your own “fearful control” narrative #1? Or your counter-narrative; “loveing influence” narrative #2?

My wife, Sue, has a pattern of walking into a room where I’m watching a football game and asking, “which team are we rooting for?” If I say the name of the team or teams, she’ll then respond with, “I know, but which color of uniforms are we rooting for?” If she’s going to watch something unfold, some game being played out, she needs to know the “uniform difference” between the competing teams. And don’t we all?

The game of life is that same way. We need to know the difference between fear and love. Both are on the same field, but so what? Which team has the ball? And which color of uniforms are we rooting for? If fear has the ball, so to speak, it will predictably seek to be in control. If love is on defense, however, it will predictably seek to influence the potential ball carrier and cause a loss of control. And that’s how the game of life is always played, whether in 2016 or 2017. Defense wins championships. Influence overcomes control. Love casts out fear. Love always causes fear to lose control. End of story.

In a very real sense, we are all watching this larger championship game of 2017 between fear’s control and love’s influence. We are each one taking sides. There is only going to be one winner come December 31, 2017. Only one final story, one official narrative. And the really good news is it is whichever side we make up our own mind to root for. You and I really do get to choose the upcoming winner in this next year’s story of our lives.

Next week’s post in this space: Fear vs. Love, or “which color of uniforms are we rooting for?”

Standard

Christmas in the land of Herod the Great

Here’s a quick quiz for anyone familiar with the first Christmas story found in the Bible’s New Testament. These words, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage,” were spoken by (a) Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, in relation to John the Baptist, (b) A sheep-rancher outside Bethlehem, in relation to his shepherds, (c) An eastern King in relation to his magi, (d) King Herod, in relation to the magi. If you were wise enough to say (d), you were correct. We find these words attributed to Herod in Matthew 2:8.

Many Christians are not all that familiar with King Herod, who ruled over Judea when Jesus was born. He was an interesting character. His wealthy father had raised him as a Jew and young Herod turned that to his own advantage in becoming appointed as Governor over the Jewish Roman province of Judea based in Jerusalem. Young Herod was a master manipulator and deal maker who won favor with the Roman Caesar by forming alliance with Octavian, the nephew of Julius Caesar. Herod was a man of superior self-esteem who preferred to be called Herod the Great in Judea but managed to also secure from the Roman Senate the title King Herod the Great rather than the customary Governor Herod in relation to his provincial territory.

King Herod the Great was also a master builder, whose personal brand became associated with elaborate architecture and civil engineering. His building projects in and around Jerusalem’s 2nd Temple were remarkable. What we even today refer to as the “western wall” that survived the Temple’s destruction in 70 A.D. was a tribute to Herod’s brand. Herod loved huge things that bore his own name, although he was quite accustomed to naming some projects for other people to court their favor, such as a coastal Judean port of Caesarea he built in honor of, let me guess, Caesar.

While King Herod the Great loved to build huge things he could associate with his own giant ego, he found it necessary to tax the Jews of Judea rather severely in order to pay for it all. This earned him the great scorn of his Jewish subjects, who were quick to point out that their King worked for the Roman establishment and was only pretending to be a Jew. To please Caesar in particular, Herod ruled by use of force with a sometimes very secretive army of centurion soldiers who used all varieties of violence against their Jewish subjects.

In short, we can say one thing especially true about King Herod the Great, whose only attributed quote in all the Bible was, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” Herod was a lover of things and a user of people. Matthew’s Gospel makes clear that the magi refused to be used by Herod, even as Joseph and Mary refused to stay in Judea, moving instead with the baby Jesus to Egypt for safety’s sake, until news came of Herod’s death.

If we fast-forward from Matthew 2 Judea to our own America of 2016, we find something of interest to now ponder as our Christmas season unfolds.

How should we this Christmas prepare for our own world to soon be headed by a new leader famous for his large ego, his master building abilities, and his master manipulation of people in both high and low places (low by pretending to be a Christian much as Herod pretended to be a Jew and a loyal Judean)? Our world today will soon be led by a man who also loves things and uses people. We, too, are about to know a leader who will stop at nothing in order to rule supreme over us, urging us to diligently say “Merry Christmas,” that he, too, may also go and pay homage to this baby Jesus.   How should we prepare?

We, too, are about to be used by one who loves things and uses people.

Unless.

Unless we, too, are as wise as the magi and go to visit “Christ, the newborn King,” but refuse to be used by any other man who would be our King.

So what would that mean for us today?

I believe it would mean understanding that God comes to us precisely in times such as these to offer us an alternative King and Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom, instead of loving things and using people, we will love people and use things. We will turn the mighty King Herod into our villain and the baby Jesus “Christ, the newborn King,” into our hero. Which is exactly what Matthew 2 does for us in our understanding of his Christmas story.

Can there be a better time for God to come to us than now? Can we have a better Christmas than one where we are free to choose between a humble newborn King and a proud newly elected President? Can we have better news today than Christ’s new light amidst our sinful darkness that loves things but uses people? In this new light from this new King we learn to do the opposite, thus reconciling us as sinners with the God who only loves people but uses things.

“Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!’” (Charles Wesley, 1739)

Standard