From just before I turned 4 to just after I turned 12 my family resided in a small house on Forrest Street in Eminence, Indiana. I didn’t know at the time that the name of the street was Forrest – there were no signs and we got our mail from a box at the tiny Eminence post office. I also didn’t realize at the time that the house was small – but it was. The original floor plan had four rooms arranged in a simple square. Only one of the four rooms had doors that closed it off from the others. This room served as my parent’s bedroom. The other three rooms featured open passages. One was the kitchen, all five of us kids slept in one and the fourth was our living room. A later bump out addition provided a tiny indoor bathroom to replace the old outhouse. One more addition – which I helped with a little bit – was a utility room off the kitchen built mainly to hold a washing machine. Prior to this, moms’ options included washing clothes by hand in a wash tub (which did double duty as a bath tub) or dragging her mob of little kids to the tiny Eminence laundry mat. The house had lath and plaster walls with no additional insulation, minimal electricity and zero provision for central heat. In the years of our residency we switched from a wood stoves in the kitchen and living room to an electric range in the kitchen and a gas heater in the living room. I remember also that dad put knotty pine paneling on the walls close to the gas heater. The house originally got water from a hand pump in a well in the side yard. Installing an electric pump in the well and running plumbing into the house was an obvious afterthought and the hand pump was left in place, protruding from a hole in the twin formed concrete slabs that covered the otherwise open well pit. That job had been done at the time the bathroom was added and the bathroom was the only room on a slab so that portion of the plumbing was fairly secure. The additional lines run to feed the kitchen sink were – less than tightly sealed and we suffered through more than one episode of furry invaders: I say suffered though I was at an age to recall them as pleasantly exciting adventures. Catching and evicting chipmunks has a certain appeal to little boys. Dad sealed the opening around the plumbing better after the episode involving the rat – an episode that remains a clear memory though I was only four going on five at the time. Dad’s first attempt to repel ‘varmints’ was to place poison in the crawl space under the house. If the rat were not already pretty sick from the poison the story would have been different. Anyway – It started with Mom shrieking – ‘RAT!!!!’ The piercing tone of her announcement of the latest ‘varmint’ got all our attention and sure enough – there was a rat in the passageway between the living room and the kids’ bedroom – staring at us with its beady little black eyes. I wasn’t sure what all was going on in mom’s head but she obviously was much more alarmed about the rat than she had been about the chipmunks. She had partnered with my older sister and I in driving the chipmunks either out the door or into a box that allowed us to carry them out the door. Even at my very young age I caught the drift that mom was not going to take an active hand in evicting the rat. Perhaps it was the way she pointed at the unfortunate rodent (with the hand she wasn’t busy chewing the nails off) and wailed – ‘Don’t let it get away!’ Well, OK. I advanced on the rat (solo – my sister shared my mom’s inexplicable aversion to the animal) and it turned to flee. I realized later that it moved very slow for a rat and that it must have been suffering from the poison bait in the crawl space. Otherwise, it would not have been so easy for me to seize it by the tail as I did. The rat turned its head toward my little almost five-year-old fingers (again – very slow for a rat) and mom screamed again – ‘Let it go’. So I did and it started to scrabble away and mom screamed – ‘Don’t let it get away’ So I grabbed it by the tail again. Mom screamed ‘Let it go!’ so I did – beginning to be very confused. One more cycle of catch and release occurred before Dad – who had been working on the car in the back yard and heard the commotion – came through the door with a crescent wrench still in hand. The rat was dealt with shortly and the space around the kitchen plumbing better sealed that same evening. That house is gone now – and four other houses that used to line Forrest Street – which now has a sign! It is hard for me to believe that five homes used to occupy that tiny patch of grass. The last time I looked, the old well was still there covered by the same concrete slabs – though the hand pump was gone. My sister got her tongue stuck on that thing once – but that’s another story. There are things I miss about those days and my thoughts about that house are somewhat nostalgic – we were largely happy there. But I will tell you this – I would not trade living in my current house (or any other house I have lived in since we moved when I was 12) to go back to the structure on Forrest Street – if it were still there. I find God always to be good and I am happy enough now. But when I have moved into my eternal home, I suspect I will not ever want to trade back.
I have been leading a Bible Study on I Samuel for a few months now (all welcome – Wednesday mornings, free breakfast at 8:00, Bible study immediately after). The life of Saul always leaves me feeling sad. We just went over chapter 18 which strikes me as the crux moment of all the trouble. Prior to this, Saul has made mistakes. Though he didn’t want to be king in the first place, be began to be addicted to power. ‘Power’ being the issue, he trusted military might more than he trusted God. These things led to Samuel informing Saul that God had rejected him from being king but Saul’s seeming inability to step down and go back to farming. Then David enters the picture. There is the slaying of Goliath (a job Saul surely should have stepped up to himself but didn’t) and the subsequent adulation of David by the people. Here Saul complains – What remains but to give David the kingdom?! Hint – that might have been a good idea! But Saul isn’t going to do that.
And the longer Saul refuses, the worse his problems become.
*Separated from God, Saul is troubled by an evil spirit. This idea is complicated by the description that God sent the evil spirit to trouble Saul. There’s more than one way to understand that. Briefly (since it really isn’t the point of this blog) The spirit in question may be an angel – not evil in itself - but accomplishing a purpose that may be described as ‘evil’ for Saul – contrary to Saul’s personal good and happiness. Or, the spirit may be a fallen angel; little to no distinction being made between what God allows and what God does/sends. Either way, Saul is deprived of the wholesome influence of God and left to something else. Repairing his relationship with God – which would need to have involved abdicating the throne – would be the direction of healing. Continuing in rebellion against God leads to – not healing.
*Saul’s son Jonathan becomes David’s fast friend. Saul perceives this as a personal betrayal. The more he hates David the more he resents his son’s loyalty to David. Not only is Jonathan, from his father’s perspective, being disloyal to his dad – he is also being disloyal to his own future interests. Saul wants Jonathan to take the throne after him – not David!
*Saul arranges (partly in accord with the promises he made to ‘whoever’ would slay Goliath) for David to marry one of his daughters. He plans for the daughter to become ‘a snare’ to David, i.e. feeding Saul crucial information about her husband and using her wifely position to influence David according to Saul’s dictates. In this manner, Saul will control and likely be able to ruin David.
*Saul, failing in his attempts to murder David personally, repeatedly puts David in dangerous situations with their national enemy – the Philistines. Saul openly admits to himself that he is trying to get David conveniently dead.
But Jonathan remains loyal to David. Michal (Saul’s daughter) turns out actually to love and support her husband and God keeps giving David success against the Philistines. Saul is increasingly isolated – neither his God nor his family seems to favor him over David.
What Saul seems incapable of realizing is that neither God nor his children wish to favor wrong over right. But, then, this is a common human failing. We want those important to us to support us – right or wrong – to take our side in every fight. We are painfully slow to realize that those who won’t support our wrong actions are doing us a favor.
And here, with all these frustrations mounting, the language changes. Saul had ‘hated’ David. Now he ‘fears’ David and a ‘feedback loop’ is established. Terminology note: In the world of audio-electronics microphones produce an increasingly loud and unpleasant sound when a feedback loop is established – Speakers amplify the signal from the microphone and the microphone picks up the sound from the speaker – which amplifies the signal from the microphone – which picks up the sound of the speaker – which amplifies the signal from the microphone – which ….. The technical term for this is ‘positive loop gain’. We all call it feedback. Business and advertising have picked up the idea and strive to set up loops in which information from the point of sale is fed back into product development which increases sales – the information from which is fed back into product development which …. They still call it a feedback loop. It’s a concept in psychology too. As it turns out – the phenomenon of feedback is useful for describing all sorts of things.
Anyway – Saul and feedback loops. Saul falls victim to twin monsters - isolation and fear – which feed each other. The two monsters grow increasingly large. And Saul’s soul shrivels, consumed by the growing feedback monsters. It didn’t have to happen. There were paths out. Saul just refused to take them.
And how different are we really? Don’t let Satan set up feedback loops in your life. But, for what it’s worth, there are positive (positive in the moral sense, not the digital audio sense) feedback loops for us too. Love and hope feed each other just as surely as isolation and fear but the result is – better.
During the tenth and eleventh years of my life, owing to scheduling issues for my mother, I spent a larger than usual amount of my summers at my maternal grandparents’ place. This coincided with my mother’s older sister living with my grandparents – my aunt married a military man and he was deployed overseas for a spell. Well, at the time, my aunt and I were oil and water – or maybe gasoline and a match. Grandma raised eleven kids and had always been pretty tolerant of noisy play and, so long as there was not an IU basketball game on, kids selecting the television programming. My aunt had at this point raised no kids and was in favor of peace, quiet, and strict control of the television, and the house – and everything else. So, my siblings and cousins and I were routinely banished from the house, urged on by swats from an egg turner – my aunt’s weapon of choice. I was the oldest of the male cousins (oldest of the females too with the exception of my one older sister) and something of a leader of the pack. The kind of outdoor activities I led involved the hay loft, trees, the woodlot, a small cave that existed on the farm, the gently sloped roof of a hog house, a long rope left over from an old system for putting up loose hay, and so forth. It turned out my aunt was not in favor of any of these activities either. Whenever she discovered we were involved in them she would issue forth from the house, egg turner in hand and demand that we line up for instructions drilled in with repeated swats. Grandma shook her head a lot and grumbled that kids ought to be allowed to be kids but no more than that. My mother laughed when the whole matter was reported to her. My aunt’s reign of terror continued – which is simply to say that I continued to find things to do that irritated her. I don’t think I thought this out in advance. I recollect it as the impulse of a moment. I had rounded up some old lumber from the destruction of a dilapidated granary, grandpa’s can of bent rusty nails, a hammer and a piece of pipe and was busily constructing a see-saw to accompany the swing I had hung from a limb in a barnyard cedar -for which, by the way, I had already faced egg turner justice. My aunt’s objection to the swing was in my methodology. I had flung the afore mentioned long rope over the first limb, perhaps fifteen feet off the ground, shook the loose end back within reach, tied a slip knot and drawn it tight. I then used grandpa’s brace and bit to drill two holes in an appropriately sized plank, passed the rope through the holes, tied the loose end around my waist and climbed the rope to the already fastened end, sat on the limb, adjusted the length to level the plank below, tied off the remaining end, and climbed back down the rope to the ground. It all seemed perfectly reasonable to me – less so to my aunt. I subsequently reasoned that the construction of the see-saw would require no climbing that would ‘risk breaking my fool neck’ and so concluded that it should not be a problem. This was an incorrect conclusion. My aunt re-emerged from the house with the egg turner. It occurred to me all in an instant. I could climb the rope – had already done so. I was almost certain my aunt could not. This turned out to be a correct conclusion. I sat secure on the high limb while she fussed, shouted, threatened, paced below, and stopped several times to jerk on the rope. It occurred to me that she might be trying to shake me out of the tree which, I thought, put the lie to her supposed concern for my fool neck! I was never swatted with the egg turner again – not for lack of effort. It was simply that I could run faster and climb things. My grandmother and mother were sufficiently amused by the whole proceeding to let me get away with it. This period of my life came to an end – I turned twelve and was reckoned old enough to stay home alone and my uncle came home and my aunt move out of grandma’s place. I can no longer recall which thing happened first. My aunt and I eventually reconciled though all these years later she is still fond of explaining to people that though I am all right now – I was a baaaad kid. Anyway, it was certainly a poor lesson to learn – that one can escape punishment by running ahead of the punisher rather than by modifying one’s behavior. I hope I have learned better since and at any rate, we cannot ever really outrun justice in a universe where God reigns – and He does.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church