World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific while I was sitting in my Sunday School class at Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church on Twenty Eighth Street, Detroit Michigan. It was in the early 1940’s. I found myself looking at my lesson on the Ten Commandments. The lesson was printed on a 5” by 7” two page folder. There was a colored drawing of Moses standing on a rugged, jagged rock. His long beard was flowing in the wind. His extended arms held a flat rock. It was a tablet with two arches on the top and straight sides and bottom. On one side were three Roman Numerals I II and III. On the other side was IV through X.
My teacher said they were the Ten Commandments and Moses got them from God on the mount. I think that was the first time I heard the word mount for mountain. But anyway, I was told that I had to keep these commandments. They were to be obeyed. And most important, everyone had to keep them too because they came from God.
Fast forward to current times, while reading “Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America” by Chris Hedges I found what these sacred commandments do for everyone when followed and not routinely ignored.
Hedges was a foreign correspondent that covered several wars for nearly two decades. In the prologue of “Losing Moses on the Freeway” he points out the benefits of the Commandments when they are kept and what evil results when they are ignored and cast aside.
Hedges said: The commandments guide us toward relationships built on trust rather than fear. Only through trust can there be love. Those who ignore the commandments diminish the possibility of love, the single force that keeps us connected, whole and saved from physical and psychological torment. A life where the commandments are routinely dishonored becomes a life of solitude, guilt, anger and remorse. The wars I covered from Central America to Yugoslavia were places where the sanctity and respect for human life, that which the commandments protect, were ignored. Bosnia, with its rape camps, genocide, looting, razing of villages, its heady intoxication with violence, power and death, illustrated, like all wars, what happens when societies thrust the commandments aside.
The commandments do not protect us from evil. They protect us from committing evil. The commandments are designed to check our darker impulses , warning us that pandering to impulses can have terrible consequences. “ If you would enter life,” the Gospel of Matthew reads, “keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). The commandments hold community together. It is community that gives our lives, even in pain and grief, a healing solidarity. It is fealty to community that frees us from the dictates of our idol, idols that promise us fulfillment through the destructive impulses of constant self-gratification. The commandments call us to reject and defy powerful forces that can rule our lives and to live instead for others, even if this costs us status and prestige and wealth. The commandments show us how to avoid being enslaved, how to save us from ourselves. They lead us to love, the essence of life.
Thank you, Chris Hedges for reintroducing me to the 10 Commandments.