The prominent tone of our culture is to embrace superficial change and promote static living. When God frees his people from Egypt and sends them out into the wilderness to rely only on him the insecurity is barely tolerable. They have no way of physically seeing how or when God will feed them and sustain them and so they complain if "only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death" (Exodus 16:3). Yet it is these periods of change and limited resources where we are most open to growth and change. The problem of living in a well-established empire is it is easy to become numb to our true purpose and the suffering of others. As long as you play by the rules of the empire you will remain fed, clothed, and housed. Your God given potential to build, imagine, and live for the betterment of others may never be reached, but your hardship will remain small. This is the quandary of the Hebrew people in this passage. They can go back to Egypt and live as slaves to the empire of Pharaoh or they can live into the promise of Genesis 12 that through them "all peoples on earth" will be blessed. The human heart was made for more then just a static slavery to the empires of our world. We were made for a radical dependence on God where we name, produce, and take care of his planet. Our unique gifts our purposed for relationship. These temporal tasks allow us to continually live into a life of death and resurrection. We are made for life and death. In Tolkien's Middle Earth imagination the greatest gift God bestows on humanity is death. The great elves grow weary of life overtime, while we die and our made new in Christ. Leaving the mystery of our final apocalyptic home aside, this is what we are made for.
In my own life treeplanting has helped me to experience this reality. A few days ago I was planting trees on a particularly cold and rainy day. While it had been raining in intervals throughout the week it came crashing down on this day. The temperature dipped to zero, the wind and rain cut inside me, the cold earth caused my hands to be barely operational, and the reality of death and resurrection moved me forward.
"This Too Shall Pass" allowed for each step to continue. "This Too Shall Pass" allowed for one more tree to be planted until the truth of that day's death and next day's resurrection became reality.
It is no wonder then that great empires of our world want nothing more than to deny this reality. All efforts are made to maintain the status quo, death is discussed at a minimum. Conversations about suffering are about as impolite as the Religion which so deeply promotes its discussion. Even as the collapsing utopian fantasy of the empire becomes blatantly obvious, the establishment will deny their future death until the very end. Until that end those who suffer will remain unheard, the homeless will continue to be sent to the outskirts of Vancouver, the jails will continue to be full of first nations people who barely had a chance, and the empire of Stephen Harper will continue to form a ridiculous line between the criminal offender and the victim as though they are not interconnected. Those of us born on the track of the empire will continue be numbed by the suffering all around us when our central value is based on the measurement of that empire. It is here where we must be continually open to deconstructing the false fantasy of the empire through poetry, music, art, and story. This is a major purpose of the prophets and poets in the Hebrew scripture, and every empire interested in maintaining their stability and oppressing our imaginations is "threatened by the artist" who is willing to speak truth to their power (Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination).