Every few years, the public eye seems to focus in on a courtroom somewhere in the United States where one group of people is battling another group of people over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be displayed. Sometimes, it’s actually in the same courtroom; sometimes, it’s in some other public or semi-public place. And many Christians have been caught up in the ebb and flow of this argument, only to have it recede when the case is settled, one way or another.
Which begs the question: are the Ten Commandments important in the first place, and do they have anything to say about our lives today?
This is the premise of Sean Gladding’s second book, Ten: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided, and Worn-Out Culture. But unlike so many theological books of late, Gladding, who has Asbury Theological Seminary and several pastor stints under his belt, develops a narrative around ‘characters’ who meet weekly to discuss each of the 10 Commandments over ten weeks. We, the readers, are drawn into their discussion of the “ten words,” but we’re also blessed with a moving narrative about the way that community-building conversations can change and grow relationships and the way we see ourselves.
Told “backwards,” the group begins with the last one, about not coveting, and works up to the first word, often called the prologue, about who God is. There are certainly common points made here, like the ones about how advertising impacts our desires for things we don’t need, but there are a number of reflections about the impact of God’s covenant that I found myself seeing through a new filter.
-Are we unfaithful in relationships beyond marriage when it comes to fidelity? (I think of college coaches, their recruits and their contracts.)
-Are we quick to say we don’t murder but ignoring the impact of war and violence on our soldiers who return home? (I recently watched an interview with Mark Wahlberg and some of the widows surrounding Lone Survivor and wondered what support they had if the movie doesn’t exist.)
-Are we satisfied with fifth commandment, or would we prefer that ‘respect’ toward mother and father be defined, when maybe God let it be more vague so that we wouldn’t box that respect in? (I watch as members of my congregation deal with their aging parents, and teens try to negotiate patterns of behavior toward parents who treat them with varying levels of respect and decency.)
-Are we checking off the box marked “went to church,” complaining about how tired we are, and failing to see that Sabbath is built in for us? (Guilty as charged.)
I’ll admit that I received the book as a reviewer from IV Press but I devoured it in less than twenty-four hours! This is deep, tricky stuff that will have to be unpacked (and will more than likely end up a sermon series coming soon to Blandford United Methodist Church!) but is at the core of who we are as people of faith, and honestly, anyone living in a Judeo-Christian society should be taking note. And I must say I haven’t considered the Ten Commandments to this degree in quite some time.
We all follow something, some rule or form, even if we say that the form is that we’ll follow nothing at all. But for Jews and Christians, if we can’t see the articulation of these ten words in the way we live the shema (“Love the Lord your God… love your neighbor as yourself”), what are we doing? Ultimately, we see the tragedies of Columbine, slave trafficking, etc. and bemoan their existence, but are we doing what we can to truly live these words so that we can make a difference?
Gladding has opened my eyes, and along the way, even entertained me. His characters, based on his own interactions with people, were ones I cared about, and ones I wanted to see work through their problems and succeed, to whatever degree success needed to find them. I was moved by the book as a pastor, but more as a Christian seeking to figure out my own path, and to know who I’m supposed to be as I desire to serve God.
You can buy it here.