By now, those of you who know me or who read what I write frequently, realize that I have a tendency to encapsulate life situations and lessons in the framework of TV, music, and movies. Perhaps that is an indicator of my intellect (haha) or an embodiment of the fact that when I was growing up those were often my “babysitters.” Regardless, one of the things I find most enticing about those arts is how much they really do touch upon life and reflect truths that we all experience, whether or not the artists intended to do so.
Looney Tunes cartoons were among my favorites. One particular series of them included two gopher characters, known as Mac and Tosh, who together were known as the “Goofy Gophers.” Created by the cartoon genius Bob Clampett, these two syrupy critters were known both for their devious antics, but also for a penchant of being overtly and overly polite, to a near-sickening degree. In one exchange, the British-accented rodents pause before exiting their tree to allow the other to exit first, saying “You first, my dear,” and “But, no, no, no. It must be you who goes first!” As I read this week through Genesis 12 to 31, I was reminded through a passage about how infrequently this mentality – this “after you” mentality – exists in our culture today.
Now I don’t mean to be cynical, but as I write this I am returning from a trip with my wife and our son, visiting colleges in the south. Known for “small town” and “old fashioned” values, the south as many of you know, is set apart in this way. Manners, politeness, consideration, and the like are all hallmarks of this area of the US, and in that respect, it’s different and unique. Perhaps that’s because we live in a time when the notion of “after you” has fallen victim to an “after me,” “look at me,” “listen to me,” and “it’s all about me” society, and the stark contrast between the extremes is all too constant and in our faces. As I camped out in Genesis 13:5-11, though, it reminded me that “small town” and “old fashioned” values are supposed to be the norm, not the exception limited to the midsection of our country …
Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.) Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram.
Abram is traveling with Sarai and the rest of his family, including his nephew, Lot. All of them had gone down to Egypt to escape famine that had developed where they were previously. Abram lied to Pharaoh and others about Sarai’s identity (he was concerned because Sarai was beautiful and if they knew she was Abram’s wife they’d kill Abram to take her), telling them she was his sister. When Pharaoh took Abram’s “sister” into his palace as his wife, God sent a bunch of plagues upon Egypt in reprisal. Pharaoh figured out that the plagues were punishment for taking Abram’s wife, and so he expelled Abram and all his family. So off they go.
So now this whole caravan is traveling to the north to find a place to settle. Because both Abram and Lot had amassed a lot of wealth they realized they would need to live in separate places. Now realize, God had already promised Abram that his descendants would be blessed, and that many nations would be born from his lineage. Also, Abram was Lot’s uncle so he bore an honor and preeminence culturally. By all rights, Abram could have claimed land he desired and could have given Lot the leftovers, so to speak. He had all the reason and authority he would want to be able to say to Lot, “after me.”
Abram did the opposite. As they surveyed the panorama, Abram’s and Lot’s servants were bickering. Abram could have shut it down and directed Lot to a location of Abram’s choosing, and could certainly have done so punitively. Rather, Abram said, “after you,” allowing Lot to choose first among the land. Lot had the opportunity to select the best with Abram accepting the rest. Selflessness. Humility. Generosity. All hallmarks of Abram’s personality. Faithfulness. Faithfulness??? Yep, that too. How? Remember, God promised to make a great nation … in fact, nations … of Abram. I suspect Abram remembered that God made a covenant to provide for Abram and on the basis of that covenant, Abram realized that God would honor it. So Abram didn’t need to shove Lot aside with an “after me” attitude. God would deliver.
When we see the behaviors of our society, whether depicted via music, movies and television, or frankly by my innately sinful tendencies (just watch me drive on the freeway sometime, it’ll be plainly evident haha), it’s clear that selflessness, humility, and generosity are hardly trademarks. Social media, inaptly named, stands epitomized as the carrier of the “after me” germ. The recent tide of protests we see in the US also seem to be tempestuous reflections of the me-first propensity we have as a human family. [Please don’t misunderstand … I support our categorical right as American citizens to peacefully protest, and I acknowledge some who exercise that right have justifiable and proper motives … however, that is not all of those who elect to do so.]
My point? The “after me” disease affects 100% of us, unfortunately. However, we can choose to realign ourselves in the manner Abram did. He chose to be selfless, he chose to be humble, he chose to be generous, he chose to say “after you.” It’s a choice, and a choice we all have dozens of times every single day. It’s a choice of faithfulness, because as Abram was choosing, “after you,” let’s see what the Bible says in Genesis 13:14-17,
After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”
The Bible says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That speaks of the blessings of an “after you” lifestyle. It starts with individual choices at individual times. It comes from a heart of faith, knowing that God will provide the reward … hence, we don’t have to look out for it ourselves with an “after me” mentality. Let’s prayerfully ask God to help us find ways and choose to live out an “after you” life. God knows our society needs it.
Soli Deo gloria!