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dsweetgoober
A Place Called Shiloh

by David F. Sweet

©1997 David F. Sweet

"...the Bible is constantly sending people into the desert for redemption, because it's there, away from the ease of settled life, far removed from ready water, that they turn to God for sustenance"
Bruce Feiler

Chapter 1

As I lay on the hot sand, face to the sky, watching several large birds circle slowly above me I could not help but wonder at how I had come to be here. Miles from anywhere in a seemingly endless desert with no one, not even the vagabond, with which to share the rigors and loneliness of my journey.

"My Journey" I said aloud to the circling vultures, "Perhaps if I live I'll write a book of that name recounting this trip."

"My Journey" I said again "When did it become my journey anyway? It was your journey" I said sitting up and casting a small stone toward the mound of sand at the bottom of the hill I was resting on.

I had buried the vagabond there and scratched his name on a flat stone which protruded up from the head of the mound. It read simply "Abel". The date seemed unimportant and I knew nothing more about his life than what I had written on the stone. That and a few of other things I could not write because they concerned the living and not the dead.

I began to think back to our meeting the day before. It started with him straggling into town and asking me for a drink from the village well. It was obvious that he had come across the desert and that was something that we tended to look down on in our village. All the elders had made it clear that there was nothing in the desert but sand and nothing beyond the desert but more sand, so anyone emerging from the desert with knowledge contrary to that was obviously delusional.

"I want to tell you about a place called Shiloh" he had said after drinking deeply and resting for a short while "but to tell you the truth, I don't know where to begin."
"Well" I said examining him doubtfully "Why don't you start at the beginning?"
"Too far!" he shook his head rather violently "We don't have that kind of time."
"Uh huh" I said trying hard not to sound rude "Look, I do have other things to do so perhaps, if you're going to tell me, you could just pick a place and begin?"
"Well the place would have to be Shiloh" he said "and the beginning, maybe, would be to tell you that I found it. Out there." he finished, nodding his head in the direction of the desert.

"Hmm. Beyond here? In the desert?" I asked.

"Yes" he said nodding his head vigorously "You've got to believe me. This place is real! I know you believe there's nothing beyond Beulah but it's out there!" he said waving his hand out toward the edge of town "I've been there!"

"OK, tell me about it." I said thinking, if nothing else, at least this might be an interesting way to pass the early evening hours.

He told me about his early life in the village and spoke well of his education in the Fellowship Hall. He had been to the High Place at all the appropriate times and had apparently been considered an aspiring member of The Council at one time. Something had gone wrong though after his ascension to adulthood.

"I was too adventurous for this place " he said "I believed that we were the only village under the Kings control, like I had always been taught. I believed the story about the rebellion and how that all the other villages were destroyed except Shemer, where his enemies live. And I believed that Beulah was the only place where his people had ever lived. Still, something drew me to the desert."

I nodded to let him know I was listening.

"I used to go out there." he said "Just walking".

"Alone?" I had asked him.

"Yes" he said "With no fellowship at all. Just me and my pack carrying some bread, water and a few old maps I found in the library. It was wonderful. I saw things that you cannot see here in the village."

"Things that we no doubt, were not meant to see." I said "But you were alone?"
"Yes" he said slowly and deliberately "I was alone. No elder to read the map for me. No one to share the heat of the day with. No one to hold my hand and lift me up or let me down. And you know what?" he said "I lived."

"I know you lived, that is if you were really there." I said "If you hadn't lived, we wouldn't be here talking now would we?"

"No, you don't understand." he said looking down at the ground and then back up at me "I lived. What ever I was doing here in the village it wasn't life. I think it was just existing, but I mean I really lived!"

"So you think that we should all head out there and live in the desert?" I had asked him.
"No. We need to live here in the village, where we can eat and drink and fellowship but listen there are some things out there in the desert that we need to see."

"Like what?"

"Like Shiloh."

Shiloh. He had this thing about Shiloh, although I could not see what it was that attracted him to the subject. It was some sort of village that he had stumbled on in his travels and it seemed extremely important to him that we knew of it's existence. He had been many places in the desert but Shiloh had impressed him more than any other because it was not on the maps available from the town hall. He had first noticed it noted on an old map from the library and had gone to the Elders to help him figure out the significance of the name. He said that they were very angry about his insistence that it was a village.

"First they told me it was a valley that the shifting sands had filled in long ago" he told me "then they tried to claim that it was an error made by a map maker who had long ago lost his position for carelessness."

"So this Shiloh is a village then?" I asked him as he leaned back against the well and closed his eyes, "Who lives there?"

"No one lives there any more." he said simply.

"Okay. So what's your point then?" I was getting a little irritated with him. He seemed to want to talk about this Shiloh place and yet he really did not seem to have any real knowledge.

"I'm not sure" he said growing secretive all of the sudden "But I'll tell you this..." he added opening his eyes and looking around to be sure that we were still alone "...the elders don't want us to know about it."

"Well then perhaps we shouldn't know about it then." I said "Did that ever occur to you?"
"Why would they want to deny the existence of a village that the old maps in the library acknowledge?" he asked "I guess I should say that the maps used to acknowledge it's existence because all those maps have been altered now."

I don't know why I even listened to him but I did. When I finally got bored with the conversation I went to bed. I felt sorry for him though and let him sleep on my porch that night and in the morning, on my way to my job, I stopped by the library and looked for the name of the village he had mentioned. An old man was seated in the main chamber on a stone bench and I asked him for help.

"Shiloh?" he said quizzically, furrowing his bushy brow "I'm afraid There is no village of that name in the archives young man. Never has been."

"Umm, yes" I said "I see. Well thank you. Where are the desert maps kept anyway sir?"
"There are no desert maps son, no one goes there." He answered narrowing his eyes and watching me suspiciously "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, uh, no reason" I told him backing up a little "Just curious I guess."

"Curiosity can be a very dangerous thing." he said standing up and following me as I made my way back through the curtain that covered the drab plaster doorway.

"I must be off or I'm going to be late for work. Perhaps I could check back later." I told him hurrying off back along the main avenue through the village, and out to the scribe who employed my services for copying legal documents.

I could feel his eyes watching me as I hurried off until finally turning a corner and moving beyond his vision. I was not apparently beyond his thoughts though. The morning passed uneventfully until we broke for midday prayer and Master Scribnal informed me that the Elders had summoned me to answer some questions regarding the visit I had made to the Library that morning.

"I'll go by and see the Elders right after work this evening Master Scribnal" I said acknowledging his note.

"That won't be necessary " he answered coldly "You've been excused for the remainder of the day and may go now."

The confrontation that followed and my flight back home was something that I wish I could forget. I had never seen the elders so angry as they were that day. They questioned me about the vagabond, the library, my lineage and everything else they could think of.

"Shiloh does not exist and you are foolish to be asking questions about it!" shouted Ebeneezer the Chief Elder, "Why have you sought to follow this error?!"

I patiently explained again about the vagabond and told them that I was only seeking to disprove what he had claimed not to prove it by any means. That seemed to appease them some what, and they finally allowed me to leave after making me swear to bring the vagabond back to them to confirm my story. I ran all the way home, hoping to find the vagabond and bring him back with me, but instead I found him waiting on the edge of the desert, beyond my house, with a fresh pack at his feet. I figured he was getting set to head back out the way he had come and I was extremely happy to see that he had not left yet. Until I recognized the pack as being mine and began to think about where he might have gotten the provisions to fill it.

"You thief! You've stolen my pack" I cried "And probably taken all my provisions too!"
"You misunderstand me." he said lifting his hands and trying to calm me down.

Before I could answer, or he could explain, I heard the twang of a bow and the vagabond lurched forward and fell into the sand with an arrow protruding from his stomach. Crimson blood flowed and stained the white tunic that he wore under his blue cloak.

"This pack is for you" he said "Take it and go. I have the maps in there for you already."

"What? I'm not going anywhere!" I said as I spun around and saw the archer who had sent the first arrow winging our way. He seemed to be alone and he was stringing another arrow to fire from the shade of a locust grove 50 yards away.

"You must go" he said struggling to get to his feet "I am too tired to finish this search and now I am wounded."

I have to confess I did not take the pack, or resume his journey, because I believed in Shiloh or even cared about it's existence. I cared nothing for him. Rather I saw what the elders had intended for the vagabond and I knew what I could expect myself if I stayed to face them again. I hoisted the pack to my shoulder and then helped the vagabond to stand. Soon we were scrambling across the desert with arrows falling in the sand around us.

He did not live long, a few more hours, and was not much help before he died. I learned his name and listened again as he told me, roughly, how to read the maps and use the compass he pressed into my hand.

"Curse your stupid Shiloh!" I said as I picked up another rock and flung it at the pile of sand below me on the desert floor "I wish I had never met you!".

Church Update
dsweetgoober
On Easter Sunday my family and I finally called it quits on attending the same circle of churches here in our town hoping that somehow one of them, after 15 years, would magically turn into what we were looking for. We decided to just meet in our living room, worship Jesus, study the Bible and fellowship together.

I have to admit it was difficult to do. It felt right but it also looked so wrong to me. I've been saved nearly 30 years and have never not gone to church in all that time. But enough was enough and we (my wife, daughter, Son-in-law and myself) liked what was happening here and did not like what was happening any other place we visited.

Our vision of what church should be is simple. People come who are hungry for God and they get fed. The Holy Spirit is not only welcome but craved. It should not be a social gathering with dress codes and a multitude of programs. People come needy and they should get what they need rather than hiding behind a mask and pretending that everything is fine until they go home and cry themselves to sleep.

We have run across others who feel the same way over the past few months and we have grown. Last nights meeting was 18 people, or 6 families. We love it. There is no program other than we show up and see what God has in store for us. People start arriving at 7:00 or so and they were all still here at11:00. And no one was looking at their watch wondering when they could leave. We spent the time worshiping, praying for each other, prophesying and fellowshipping over the wide array of food everyone brought. I have been looking for this type of fire for 15 years in this town. Thank you Jesus that we have finally found it.

Excerpt from the real Journal
dsweetgoober



7/7/94

Soldiers

I hear the ring and stamp of feet,
soldiers streaming through the street,
plans of mischief to complete,
brought by ever hastening feet.

Soldiers all, some wheat-- some chaff,
they seek a shepherd and a staff,
a garden lies across their path,
a tender plant awaits their wrath.

Swords and knives and sticks abound,
a little lamb they must surround,
a figure stirs without a sound,
and gently rises from the ground.

And soldiers lead him off to die,
defenseless and without a cry,
and no one speaks a word but I...

"Oh Lord! Have you no soldiers?"

Soldiers find a robe to place,
upon his shoulders while his face,
is stained with blood to purchase grace,
for hounds who brought him from the chase.

And soldiers sport and play a game,
"Tell me prophet! What's my name?"
Sea waves frothing out their shame,
and yet he loves them all the same.

And soldiers lead him off to die,
defenseless and without a cry,
and no one speaks a word but I...

"Oh Lord! Where are your soldiers?"

And soldiers place him in the ground,
with soldiers stationed all around,
while in the tomb without a sound,
he gently rises from the ground.

First to Hell and Death below,
then to Heaven he must go,
to bring what soldiers need to know,
mercy and forgiveness flow.

And Hell and Death have met defeat,
and we see victory complete,
as soldiers bow before his feet,
to find salvation full and sweet.

And soldiers learn that they must die,
defenseless and without a cry,
I hear them say and so do I...

"Oh Lord, I'll be your soldier!"

Old age and sin
dsweetgoober
(Excerpt from CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, in which Screwtape advises Wormwood on using time to wear down a soul.)

The enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for an ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of... middle aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves or youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it--- all this provides admirable opportunities for wearing out a soul by attrition."

If you are unfamiliar with this work of CS Lewis it is a fictional account of one demon writing to another demon instructions on the best method of causing a Christian to fall.

Paul seems to have a similar thought about this possiblity when he writes of himself "...lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." A falling away in old age. A collapse, after years of service and struggle. Is it possible to let the years of struggle wear us down by attrition and bring about in old age what the enemy of our souls could not accomplish when we were young and strong, with the word of God abiding in us?

I think so. We have to finish the course strongly. We have to understand that "God's mercies are new every morning". Past failures speak nothing of today and his grace can renew our hearts even in the twilight years just as it did in youth. Paul elsewhere taught that experience should produce hope and that hope would not lead us to shame.

Virginia Tech Shootings
dsweetgoober
"A man went berserk today and gunned three people down,
in a fast food restaurant in someone else's town,
Everybody said they'd never seen the man around,
But anybody knew that he was from somebodies town.

But nobody reached him for the Gospel,
though anybody knew that it was right,
and everybody hoped he'd see somebody's light,
but in the end nobody was in sight..."

Nobody, David F. Sweet (1986)

Without an inkling of what was coming we find ourselves faced with the latest reminder that we live in an ugly world. If ugly can even cover it. 33 people dead on a college campus, victims of the latest demonic assault on America's youth and our national psyche. It's horrible and sad beyond words.

On one side stands another social outcast who imagines a world that hates him and has conspired against him. In his mind they have ridiculed and ostracized him. He feels oppressed and helpless and can find no better answer than a demonic frenzy of bloodshed and bravado. What can we do as Christians? Pray for the families? Pray over our schools and campuses daily asking for God's divine protection? Yes.

Beyond that, what? What can we set on the other side as guilt that would ever outweigh the horror of what that young man did? Nothing. His crime is too horrible. Our sin is small by comparison and hardly worth mentioning. We sometimes laugh with the world when they single someone out as being strange or socially inept. Sometimes we allow our own issues to keep us from seeing the need in others. Can any of that make a difference in the life of a certified monster? I don't know. In fact it's a separate issue. One man's guilt never affects another's. We stand alone.

But as a former sociopath that recalls firsthand the helpless rage that comes from ridicule I know a bit of that dark side. I know what it is to be the foil for the rich and the popular in school and to feel so despised as to take it as an absolute impossibility that I could ever be "good". It's easy to believe that when the Devil whispers in your ear that you have no place in decent society and that in fact your only hope is to be as bad a you can be. I know those thoughts, they were my thoughts.

One of my favorite songs during the dark years before I found Jesus was Elton John's "Tickin'".

"‘An extremely quiet child' they called you in your school report,
‘He's always taken interest in the subjects that he's taught',
So what was it that brought the squad cars screaming up your drive?
To notify your parents of the manner in which you died?"

If you don't know the song it's all about boy as timebomb. Suffering in silence until one explosion with a handgun leaves "14 people lying dead in a bar they call the Kickin' Mule" Even now I can write the words from memory because I lstened to it so many times. I connected with the song and felt it was my own story. There were many times when I daydreamed about making such an end to my life. One final act of revenge. One final way of saying "I can cause pain too". It's no more complicated than that.

Thank God he had other plans for me. Thank God someone preached the Gospel to me. Someone who was living it out in front of me. My heart aches for the families of the slain but I thank God for the fact that no one is beyond his grace. Even monsters can turn and find mercy at the foot of the Cross. And that's the whole point of this post.

Please, don't anyone think that somehow I am defending a murderer or being disrespectful toward those grieving souls who will never be the same. I post this here with the sole hope that maybe another tragedy can be averted. Maybe someone will read this obscure post and realize that they are not too far from God. You need to know that every lie of the enemy, and every bondage, can be broken in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no sin that you have committed, no oath that you have sworn, no allegiance that you have accepted that can possibly hold you from becoming his child if you will just call out to him.

Easter Sunday
dsweetgoober
Colossians 2:14 "Let no man judge you in respect of a holyday...or of the sabbath days."

Romans 14:5 "One man esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike..."

Of all the days to go to church Easter Sunday has always been the one I dread the most. It has always been that way for me as a Christian. It always seems to be so religious. So trivial. So fleshly. So far from the point, no matter how hard I try to make it about Jesus. Why do we have Christian Holidays (holydays as Paul called them) anyway? Was that part of God's plan? Did God look down on a tired humanity and say "My people could use a three day weekend."?

God did not send his Son, Jesus did not die on the cross, to establish holidays. The only thing I am cognizant of in the NT that Jesus labeled as worthy or remembrance was his death (through communion) and the extravagant, spontaneous outpouring of love accomplished by the sinful woman at Simons feast. He said what she did would be remembered "wherever this Gospel is preached." Us? We have "Christian" holidays.

How did we get here? Much has been said and written regarding the apostasy of the early church following the decrees of Constantine so I wont rehash it all here, but, do we really believe that this paganization of Christian worship can somehow be made meaningful to us? Do we imagine that the early church, meeting in the catacombs, would have thought it sane to dress up in their new Easter outfits to crawl through the sewers and assemble for church? After which they had a cookout and turned their children loose to hunt Easter eggs in the stench and filth of the catacombs?

Don't get me wrong, I'm no grinch. When our kids were little they got baskets of candy. We celebrate Christmas with trees, lights, gifts and turkey dinners. But, attempt to somehow wrest the holidays from their pagan roots and the entangling vines of tradition and expect believers to find some deep spiritual meaning in them? Please. That's available to us every day. In fact, when Paul was teaching that there are no longer sabbaths and holydays he was not exhorting people to abandon them but realize that they were types and shadows of which Jesus was the fulfillment. It's not a matter of Christians tossing out Holydays and believing every day is common but rather realizing that everyday is holy now and none are common!

I'll go to church this morning, begrudgingly, and watch the parade of empty finery fill the pews for a Christian social event. But I will be praying that some brave soul of a Pastor will have the courage to not bow down to tradition, perhaps even break down in tears, and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting world.

In fact my prayer for next Christmas Lord is persecution for your church. When I hear Christians whining about Target, or Wal-mart, or some mall somewhere refusing to treat their holidays with respect I feel like Pharaoh observing of the Jews in Exodus, "Ye are idle! Ye are Idle! That's why you have time to worry about your religious observances! Get to work!".

Latest Song
dsweetgoober
Awake Asleep

1.)

Awake asleep it's all the same to me,
can't recall the last time my eyes were open or closed.
Day or night I can't remember anymore,
Can't recall the last time it even mattered at all.

Black or white I can't distinguish anymore,
Can't recall the last time there was anything but gray,
Silent speaking what's the difference anyway?
Can't recall the last time I had anything to say.

Bridge

But I've been so spun around
To where I can't tell up from down,
but If you'll just make a sound...I'm awake again

2.)

You're here or there I can't remember anymore,
Can't recall the last time you were with me or away.
Dancing mourning don't know which I'd rather have,
Can't recall the last time I was happy or sad.

Feast or famine don't know what I'm looking for,
Can't recall the last time I was empty or full.
A man a slave it's lost it's meaning to me,
Can't recall the last time I was captive or free.

(no subject)
dsweetgoober
"...I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church....but of course there must be divisions among you so that those of you who are right will be recognized."

1 Corinthians 11:18-19 NLT

The church that we have been attending since around Labor Day has disintegrated. It’s very confusing trying to pinpoint exactly why but it centers on personality conflicts and a power play by a family that had been there 12 years and felt slighted. Accusations were made against the Pastor and his wife and they resigned. The accusations included one concerning our family forcing a visitor to move so that we could sit together. We love the Pastor and his wife, and feeling unwelcome ourselves, we left too.

Tuesday I was reading my Bible on my palm pilot and started by typing the word "church" after the FIND: function, thinking (jokingly) that we needed to find a church and maybe this would help. Instead I found a slew of verses that convinced me of the following:

 Jesus is the head of the church
 He nourishes and cherishes it
 It is his body
 It has suffered divisions, schisms and doctrinal disputes from the beginning
 The purpose of those disputes is (above) to sift out the wheat and the chaff

So if my reason for leaving was that the church was suffering from strife and contention is that a valid reason to leave? If the reason for leaving is that a schism has occurred how does it work that God sifts out the wrong and approves the right if the right leave? (assuming I’m right). If I left over the family that made the power play what's my reason for leaving now that I know that the board has dealt with them and they are gone?

Rachel asked me in tears when we left “When does someone stand up and fight for the church? Why do you always just leave?” I have always felt that fighting for a church is like two children fighting over a cream puff in a sand box, by the time the fight is over what would be left worth having? You can't fight (in the flesh) and expect that anything good would be left. Nevertheless I am beginning to wonder if we have to go back and fight for the church. Not against flesh and blood, but in the Spirit. It goes against my whole nature to even consider it. Any advice?

Stuff
dsweetgoober
-


1 Peter 3:12 "For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers;"

I dont know why this scripture had such a profound effect on me today. I don't struggle with prayer in a theological, or doctrinal, sense. I know what I believe about prayer. I guess I have to admit though that when I fail to pray regularly it is a way of saying that I don't believe it matters. And if I feel it doesn't matter then how can I really believe that God is listening? There must be an issue of unbelief on a fundamental level that leads me to feel that the skies "turn to brass" at times. It was refreshing to hear this word from God today though.

(no subject)
dsweetgoober
Latest Song I've Written:

Conversation

We have this talk a couple times a year,
if you don't remember, it's because you're never here,
It's just me and I'm talking in my mind,
Driving, while the world falls off behind...

But it's conversation,
and it helps me pass the time,
and someday I'll tell you,
everything that's on my mind...

But right now I'm driving everywhere, all the time,
going to someplace from someplace else,
to do something that justifies my pay,
So I keep moving, but I always seem to move away...

But it's conversation,
if it's only in my mind,
and someday I'll tell you,
If I can only find the time...

And there's so much to say,
So I reach for words,
and find emptiness again.

But I love you,
and I'm as proud of you,
as a person's ever been.