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My Year of Jubilee

On 29 December 2021 I turn fifty.

Me eating gelato in Nafplio, Greece

In the Bible, the fiftieth year is the celebration of Jubilee, the year after seven years of sevens, as outlined in Leviticus 25. There were four key components, as I understand it, of the Jubilee celebration. First, there is a forgiveness of debts. Second, slaves are set free. Third, boundary markers for property are reset. Fourth, no planting or harvesting is to take place.

Before I go much further, there is very little evidence the ancient Hebrews ever actually observed properly the Jubilee, and the Prophets specifically spell out the ignoring of Sabbaths, sabbatical years, and Jubilees as one of the reasons for the exile and captivity. Isaiah may have been talking about the ultimate Jubilee in Jesus when he referred to the ‘Year of the Lord’s favor’ in Isaiah 61:2. Jesus of course quotes this when he begins his ministry.

But back to Greenbean’s Jubilee.

The forgiveness of debt was more like catching up all the payments for a lease agreement than it was the forgiving of actual debt as in a credit card. However, the net effect of the program would have been to free up people from long obligations. Plus, the forgiveness of debt is a very powerful Old Testament and New Testament idea. Jesus uses that phraseology when referring to sin in the model prayer.

So — I announce on this day that as of December 29, 2021 any individual who owes me money or service is hereby released of that obligation.

Slavery is another issue altogether. I abhor slavery in any form and that includes elitism and classism, which is a certain kind of slavery that separates ruling people from the mere commoners. But I digress. The language about slavery, combined with debt forgiveness, has been interpreted variously through the years as a forgiving of wrongs done to us. Forgiveness.

This one has been tough. I am not a grudge keeper, but there are a handful of people who have hurt me deeply and I have uttered with my mouth or sworn in my heart that I will never forgive them. But here I am, forced to consider not only my Jubilee, but more importantly, the words of Jesus who says forgive, and it shall be forgiven you (Matthew 6). I want to follow Jesus, and we are never more like Christ than when we forgive.

I worked through this one today and shed more than a few tears. The hurt, though decades old, still feels fresh. Some is personal. Other is vocational. Some is old, and I’m thinking of 2010. Some is new, and I’m thinking of personal attacks against me in the midst of COVID-19. All of these things hurt. Yet, it is my Jubilee.

I, therefore, forgive all transgressions against me. This means there will be no recrimination, no reminders, and nothing but a desire for those people who have wronged me to be happy, healthy, blessed, and to be in a relationship with the Lord.

This forgiveness idea goes further, for me, though. I am very cognizant of my own failings. As a young man I was cold and harsh. I’ve said things that were at best rude but were also racist, misogynist, and insensitive. Although I have never attacked anyone in my lifetime physically, I have done so verbally. I had a job in college, and the last year I worked there, I mailed in it. I mean, I did not give them honest work for honest pay. I owe HEB an avocado. In 2008 I transgressed a church in Oregon when I lead them on and then told them no after I had told them yes. I am guilty of gossip. I can be judgmental.

For these things, and so much more, I ask that you forgive me, on this my Jubilee, especially If I have hurt you in any way.

Property boundaries are the third part of this celebration. I have very few literal property boundaries and they all are older than me and are in their original locations, so there is nothing to reset there. But the idea of a reset, of ‘returning to your property’ rings differently in my ear right now. It feels like a reset is needed in my mindset — the real estate of my soul. I need to reset to some things that I used to do when I was a young man. I was very ambitious with desires to write, lead, and make a difference. I came to realize my ambition when unchecked, could lead me to use people and manipulate, so over the decades I have crucified this ambition within me.

But I think I have gone too far. I need to reset some of this and recognize the natural ambition the Lord gave me is a part of who I am. Redeemed ambition is one that pushes myself to accomplish without manipulating others or using other people in the process. It means ambition for a better way, and not a bigger way. I need to reset some boundaries on my time, what I prioritize, and what really matters. I have a book that is finished and I will peddle it vigorously this year. I have another project with two co-authors which I will pursue with zeal. There is also a third, secret book which is one-third finished. I will finish it this year.

I must also likewise reset the boundaries in my personal life. The sprouts are grown now. They no longer need me to teach them or care for them. I need not tell them what to do. I must reset that boundary now in my fiftieth year and see my children as sojourners with me on the Jesus path. I can learn from them and they can learn from me and together we can be stronger, but they are my peers now. Special peers to be sure, but not little children who must be guided by the hand. This is a hard thing to let go of.

On this the dawning of my fiftieth year, I reset my mind, my soul, my work, and relationships.

And that brings me to the last of the four parts of Jubilee as I understand it. That is the prohibition on sowing and reaping, leaving the ground fallow. This would have been two years in a row for the Hebrews, because of the Sabbath year of the seventh set of sevens the year before. Mrs. Greenbean and I are now at a new place in our life. Our children are grown and we have liberty — Jubilee — to rediscover marriage at this stage in our lives as well as rediscover the world. When you don’t have crops to tend, you can travel. So that is my practice for the foreseeable future — to travel, visit, see, eat, learn, and grow as a citizen of the world. Who knows when bad health or economics or war or pandemics may come and rob the ability to travel.

I therefore on this day, commit to traveling at least once a year, and maybe two times a year, to some place I have never been before, or to revisit some grand locale I have enjoyed in the past.

Oh Lord, help me forgive and to let go of the pain. Forgive me for my sins of the mind, the mouth, and the rash moments. Allow my relationships to be pure and motivated by love. Help me to work hard and to accomplish the tasks I believe you have called me to do. Bless thou, the work of my hands. May my travels always be a blessing to the world and never a curse.
Thank you for the fifty years you’ve allowed me on this planet, in this flesh, with my family, and in this odd life of ministry. It has been a great blessing to me and I have enjoyed it. I boldly ask for another seventy years, that with Moses I may reflect on one hundred twenty years with you and sing your praises as I make my way into eternity. However, I wish to not live one more day than you have planned, and I submit to your will in all things. Thank you for the gift of Jubilee. In the name of Jesus the Messiah whom I follow. Amen.”

DEFICIT, DEBT, AND THE DOW

So I’m doing some serious Greenbean type thinking the last few days about the deficit, debt, and stock market plunge of the last few days.  Some thoughts come to mind.  They are only slightly related.

Number 1:  I remember three weeks or so ago when we were still on vacation my oldest daughter and I were driving around and I was listening to NPR on the radio and there was a piece on the deficit talks and how it was hard to get a deal made.  (Note, of course we all know how hard that was).  My daughter, who is 16, asked me what that actually meant.  So, I told her about government spending, revenues, and how for the past 40 years we have progressively spent more and more on social services and entitlements  but also systematically taken in less and less on taxes.  The result has been that we are borrowing vast amounts of money, and much of it from other countries, like China, and that in order to keep going the congress was going to have to agree to raise the limit on what they could borrow so they could borrow more.  It made me depressed and my daughter wondered, “Who is running this country?”

Number 2:  The idea of raising your own debt limit is really odd, isn’t it?  When I need to borrow money or if I wanted to raise my credit card limit, I have to ask someone else’s permission.  Not congress.  They just print more money.  Perhaps the problem lies in who gets to approve this.  Maybe congress should put deficit spending to a public vote—but only those who pay taxes get to vote.

Number 3:  Debt—that is the word used in the King James Version of the Bible for the Lord’s Prayer as a synonym for sin:  “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”  I’ve always thought the connection between a debt owed and a sin committed was telling.  Perhaps our debt problem as a nation is a collective sin which we have not confessed.  If that is so I suggest the sin we are guilty of is not materialism, (because a lot of the debt spending is actually for wonderful altruistic things like helping the poor and vulnerable) but instead it is the sin of electing spineless politicians who find it easier to kick the can down the street instead of dealing with the issue.

Number 4:  The ideologues are going to get us all in a lot of trouble.  There are two sets of ideologues which are driving this crazy train.   One ideology says never raise taxes and just cut spending while the other ideology says never cut spending and just raise taxes.  Now here’s the scoop:  taxes are going to have to be raised one way or another and spending is being cut all across the nation.  Smart leaders would acknowledge this, come square with the people and get things taken care of.  The American economy is strong and can survive both cuts and raises in revenue.   It might not be in the future if something is not done now.

Number 5:  I refuse to look at my annuity right now.  It is a bad idea to even think about looking at what your portfolio is worth right now.  It is in times like this that smart investors buy.  That is what I learned in economics classes in college.  Buy when the market is down.  That means temporarily you are losing money, but in the end, when things rebound, and they will rebound, you’ll be better off.  The ones who are getting hurt are those who are retired or near retirement.  That is why it is so silly that congress and the President (yes, he must take some of the blame) let this happen.

Number 6:  Back to my daughter and I listening to the radio news.  She asked me, “If we don’t raise the limit and pay our bills, can the other countries repossess the United States?”  I replied by saying, “No way.  Part of what we’ve been spending the borrowed money on is really big guns that fly fast.  I dare anyone to try to come and take it.”

IN(DEBT)ED

Yesterday I was listening to NPR—which is a sin in some camps but I still love it—and there was an amazing piece on the Debt Commission and their upcoming recommendations to Congress and the President.  The reporter for the piece was Mara Liasson.  As a note, she’d better watch out because I think she sometimes works for FOX and I don’t want her to get Juaned.

The piece (http://www.npr.org/2010/12/02/131747243/Debt-Commission-Recommends-Shared-Sacrifices) was short, but poignant and interesting; in a human nature kind of way.  In summary, it put forward the notion that everyone agrees the national debt must be curtailed, but no one really supported any specifics to stop the spending.  It would be as if everyone knew that the car needed to get an oil change but the people in the car couldn’t agree on where to do it, how to pay for it, or what time to schedule it.  As a result, the car will eventually stall.

The best summary of the situation was not by an elected official but by a business person:

Mr. DAVE COTE (CEO, Honeywell): We’re being watched by countries who consider us past our prime because we can no longer rally as Americans to accomplish the tough things. As a country, we need to stop the demagoguing, where everyone just runs to their neutral corner and yells and screams at the other guys.

    

Now, here is what interests me.  I see the same instinct in families, individuals, and churches.  People recognize that their spending is out of control but there is absolutely no will-power to make the changes necessary to stop it.  A family, for example, sees the need to stop credit card spending and makes big decisions to get out of debt but then instead of eating what is in the fridge for dinner they decide to ‘splurge’ and go out to eat.  How do they pay for it?  What’s in your wallet?

This Sunday I am scheduled to preach on Jesus and the issue of poverty as a part of my Advent ELEVATION sermon series.  One of the things I hope to point out (SPOILER ALERT) is that money is never the real problem nor is it the real solution.  Money is really only a symptom.

Our nation’s debt is parallel to most folk’s personal debt problem.  It’s not an issue of how much is coming in but of the inability to make hard choices and prioritize spending.  The root of the problem is undisciplined living. 

That is what Mr. Cote was trying to say about our nation.  We’ve lost the will-power to make the hard choices and do the right kinds of things.  Now for the bow-tie finish where it all comes together.  Perhaps our nation’s incredible, lamentable and unprecedented financial debt is a symptom of our incredible, lamentable and unprecedented spiritual apathy.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think there is definitely some kind of connection there and that is before I ever get started the strong New Testament connection between “debt” and “sin.”  I’ll save that for another day.