It’s that time … well actually given my current tendency towards apathy and procrastination, it’s waaaay beyond that time … you know, the optimistic, forward-looking, New Year Resolution blog post time. It’s the time when I try to come up with either reasons, or excuses, or even – given this whole thing is notionally about faith and belief and all that malarkey – semi-prophetic words about the coming New Year, the things before us and the things left behind.
I suppose that lots of us have heard New Year’s resolutions and a few well-chosen words from others regarding 2016 over the last couple of weeks – I’ve heard of plenty of people giving prophetic words and such like about how there’s opportunities ahead etc., etc., and I have to confess my inner (okay, not so inner if I’m honest!) cynic just writes most of it off under the category of well-meaning generally encouraging hopefulness. I mean, it’s only natural that at the turn of the year everyone is looking for things to encourage and inspire them for the coming year … it doesn’t necessarily equate that everything that’s said is inspired or anything.
So, that’s probably why I’ve been refusing to engage with the stuff that’s been nagging at me over the New Year period and into the middle of January … I’ve been trying to write it off as wishful thinking. But three weeks into my studious, self-imposed and self-righteous ignorance I’m finding myself thinking that if I was indulging in wishful thinking it’d feel a lot more like a wish!
I was involved in some planning at church and during that process I felt that the story of Exodus was key, and something worth building some teaching around – now, nobody else involved thought the same, so I put Exodus to one side.
Or at least I thought I did …
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I ended up having dreams of camps in the desert, of golden calves and manna and quail, but it hasn’t been far from that; it’s niggling at me and I know, through past experience, that I’m going to have to work through it or I’ll end up “behind the eight ball” of frustration and confusion – stuck in my apathy and procrastination.
That’s where this phrase “breaking camp” reared its head. I’ve had it buzzing around in my head for the last two weeks – here, for what it’s worth, is what it’s starting to make me think…
The story of Exodus is one of journey and change – a physical journey of a refugee nation of slaves, and also a transformative journey as those slaves become a hardened warrior nation ready to conquer Canaan. There’s a whole generation forged in the wilderness who ‘inherit the land,’ just as their forbears somehow fail to grasp both the promises and the land before them. Whilst in the wilderness, this disparate nation experiences the day-to-day accompaniment of God (as a pillar of fire or cloud) and the day-to-day provision of God in the form of manna and quail.
For me, there would’ve been the overwhelming temptation to rest in that. To eat the manna and quail – although pizza and ice-cream might’ve been what I was really looking for – and bask in the comforting knowledge that I could see the evidence of my tribal God just ahead of the camp.
I’m sure that a lot of the Israelites would’ve felt like that too, at least every now and then.
But the deal was always that the people of Israel were supposed to be on the move, not just settlers in the desert but a nation on its way to the land promised to them by their God.
Every now and then, they had to break camp. They had to pack up their tents and belongings, gather the livestock and the kids and up and follow that pesky column of cloud or fire
This idea of ‘breaking camp’ feels to me like a moment when the people would really have had to make a choice … do we pack up and continue to move on, or do we stay here in the wilderness? Do we move forward or keep looking back over our collective shoulders? Are we going to recognise the past is behind us and that the future calls us forwards, or will we let that past cast a shadow that makes the way forward dim and difficult to see?
And that’s the feeling I’ve got now.
Last year I was more overtly positive – choosing Kainos over Neos – and I admit that I’m not feeling that inspired by this annoyingly insistent thought that this is a year of breaking camp … but nevertheless, I think it might be something I (and maybe we) have to do.
Change comes along regardless of our attempts to forestall it, or even if we embrace it; this time around I think it might be that we need to be in on the instigating of it, not reacting to it, but precipitating it in ourselves, our churches, our wider communities.
Breaking camp might well mean that we pack up things that we have spent a lot of time arranging for our comfort; it might mean that we need to make the difficult choice to leave some things, some attitudes, or even some people behind … for me there’s a whole history of hopes and dreams and fears and failures that I’ve dragged along with me over the last few years, feathering my mental and emotional nests with their comforting presence and now there’s a constant restless whisper of “Time to break camp … time to break camp.”
I find myself wondering what I’ll be leaving behind.
But, I’m breaking camp anyway. I invite you to do the same; pack up the stuff that you don’t need and set out towards that there Promised Land – however that makes itself apparent to and in you.
Now, there may well not be a readily apparent column of smoke by day and fire by night to guide our collective ways but it’s still echoing in me that that’s what the year is going to bring … a call beyond settling in our deserts and wildernesses, a call to restless, edgy, inspired movement, a call into a future and a hope that insists that we follow it forward and ever onward …
C’mon, time to break camp.