Is It Too Much to Ask?

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Listen to “Is It Too Much To Ask?”

 

It’s not just me but a growing number of people have made comments about a theme running through commencement speeches for the last several years. Do what matters most to you. Find your passion and follow it. Explore your deepest self. Follow your dreams and, most importantly, find yourself.

It seems that the primary task is to make the world a better place for you chiefly. While that sounds like a value hatched by Baby Boomers and passed along to the next generation, the roots of it are found thousands of years ago in a passage from the book of Numbers.

The tribes of Israel had managed to be obedient to God and Moses for only three days until a group of outsiders who early on attached themselves to the people began to stir them up with thoughts of why they deserved more than the miraculous food they were receiving. While a small number, these outsiders (called rabble) had a voice and had studied the people enough to know even miracles after a couple of days are followed with, “What have you done for me lately?”

They remind me of the late community organizer, Saul Alinsky, who wrote in Rules for Radicals that organizing is the process of highlighting whatever is wrong and convincing people they can do something about it. The organizer, especially an outside organizer, must first overcome suspicion and establish credibility. Next, the organizer must begin the task of agitating: rubbing resentments, fanning hostilities and searching out controversy. This is necessary to get people to participate. An organizer has to attack apathy and disturb the prevailing patterns of a complacent community life where people have come to accept a situation: “The first step in community organization is community disorganization.”

Organizing people around their seeming minor discontent is naturally easier, isn’t it? Rabble organizers have antennae for people who have come to feel deserving but impotent and they stir them up – not necessarily to a boil but enough to make them grumble when they once had rejoiced.

On what did the rabble focus? Not on hunger but dissatisfaction with the variety of food:  “At least we had free fish in Egypt…Is it too much to ask?” They used the tool of relative deprivation to compare what they had with others – even if those others were still slaves in Egypt.

Relative deprivation compares what we have with those similar to us. When we read about the super-rich, it is more of a distraction than a cause for torment. It is entertainment. Instead, we compare ourselves to people who have a little more than we do or we envision our life and work really being about our personal fulfillment and convenience. All dissatisfaction begins with comparison – either to someone else or to what we imagine would give us the happiness that is ours by right. It begins in the vague feeling that someone who may have once been generous is now withholding something from us. It begins with “this is unfair,” and “I am being cheated.” The rabble are the sworn enemies of gratitude and it is gratitude they need to attack right away.

Relative deprivation is not the same as godly ambition or the desire to make something better of yourself or your circumstances. Neither is it taking advantage of an opportunity. Instead, it is the corrosive dissatisfaction that, instead of creating healthy change, only destroys the soul. It is what creates entitlement and eventually an enslavement to anger, resentment and envy.

This ancient story has just as much application today. The fate of those outside voices stirring us up to discontent and complaint about what we have from God is just as true now. It may take longer to have the fatal effect than it does here with the quick and dramatic death of those who incited the grumbling. Yet, the end result of manipulating people to believe they are being short-changed by God or to create dissatisfaction for no good purpose is still the same. They may not physically die from a plague but their souls wither and they end up in the same place – the grave of craving. The grave of relative deprivation. The grave of envy.

Tragically, the effect of their work remains for the rest of the lives of that generation of Israel. They could not stop what they had started – dissatisfaction and entitlement. They could not recapture what they had lost – gratitude, obedience and wonder.

We all have rabble in our lives. For each of us there are insistent voices that whisper or shout, “Just a little bit more and you’ll get what you deserve.”  And, sadly, we sometimes do.

Art by Arthur Rackham

This is an excerpt from “Where The Light Divides”

 

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Showing 13 comments
  • Avatar
    Tony
    Reply

    The Rabble Rousers sound like the biblical equivalent of ANTIFA.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Or Oath Keepers and QAnon. They all use the same techniques.

  • Avatar
    Peter
    Reply

    Great Job Fred — I am laughing out-loud — the simplicity of your topic and approach, with some complexity mixed in to win us over, NEVER ceases to amaze me — THANK YOU, I was up for an hour in the night wrestling with a rabble rouser within and didnt even know it — PEACE

  • Avatar
    Lisa Wen
    Reply

    Wonderfully illuminating insights, Fred. I am reminded that before his elected positions in government, Obama was a community organizer…makes a lot of sense.

    Your words of wisdom are a very helpful caveat to us all.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lisa. We are all so malleable, aren’t we?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lisa. Sadly, all of us are easily roused and misdirected at times.

      • Avatar
        Caleb Davenport
        Reply

        Anytime we are not living for the glory of God but are living for ourselves and our own selfish desires will prove to be an unhappy reality for ourselves and others around us.

  • Avatar
    Doug
    Reply

    This challenges me more directly … rather than seeing it in the “other”. The question for me is how strong the pull to be the “rabble rouser” can be. This is as much of a challenge in a HOA as on a larger scale, it’s as much of a challenge in my own work place as any other. For me, you are making a call for deep introspection not observation

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Doug. Unfortunately, it takes even
      less effort now to rouse people. Everyone is living at 211 degrees – one degree away from boiling.

  • Avatar
    Amy
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing, Fred. This speaks to the lies we hear constantly today, just as the Israelites did back then. The rabble rousers are getting louder and many in the church are falling prey to their lies. It is a great reminder to stand for truth and not listen to the rabble rousers. It is getting harder and harder when there is so much untruth spoken and incessantly shared. To stand firm, we must know the truth, deep in our hearts and minds. I have been praying about this topic often. Your words spell it out so clearly. Praise the Lord, the truth will prevail!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Amy. Yes, we are
      all surrounded by spin, bias, half-truths, misinformation and outright lies. There has never been a better time to be grounded in Scripture and rooted in love.

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