Archive for July, 2008

The psalms are full of hopeful assertiveness that ‘I shall never be shaken’.

Such confidence, even when it is more fragile than its articulation might appear, grounds itself in the world’s presumed moral stability. That is, justice exists and justice shall prevail. If one cannot trust in this feature of YHWH’s craftsmanship, then little else matters. (more…)


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Life as often as not places us far from where we’d rather be.

Such unruly distance can be resented, resisted, can become the root gland of our bitterest spittle. Alternatively, we embrace the far place as a feature of our vocation. From there we send out what roots we may, we become schooled in affection for the adoptive place, yet still we speak our restless longing for the distant city that endures as our heart’s habitation. We even name that far place home. (more…)

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Novelty is not often praised in the Bible. Yet a different newish thing—fresh vigor—is a deeply respected asset, sometimes placed before its readers as a goal and frequently celebrated as a gift recently given.

The apostle Paul’s discussion of freedom could hardly contrast more sharply with modern and post-modern understandings of autonomy. The modern soul stands independently and makes its choices. Its post-modern sister stands in community and, similarly, chooses with that community (or so it flatters itself) a way of interpreting its world. (more…)

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owls in the mix

Returning from vacation in Montana to our more humble, flatland environs, my wife and I were greeted in the semidarkness by the sweeping, silent sight of a large owl departing a branch of one of the evergreens that separate our front yard from Holliday Park, just across the street.

On the list of my tiltings at windmills appears the placement of two owl boxes a pair of years ago. A smaller one awaits Screech Owls in our backyard. A much larger one, placed at risk of life and limb in the mentioned front-yard tree, invites tenants of the Barred Owl variety. Except for quizzical squirrels, these two aviary condos have stood empty, significantly driving down the occupancy stats of my coterie of birdhouses. Only the wrens have kept my numbers from plunging below respectable range. (more…)

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The fifth chapter of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans shows the man bending his mind to sketching grace’s geometry. Over against the human tendency to imagine that heaven’s blessings fall—mechanically and by the dictates of our power of decision—in proportion to earthly behavior, Paul traces out a different story.

For him, heaven’s actions are not divine response to human provocation, whether for good or ill. Indeed, God is hardly the responder at all. Rather, he lavishes disproportionate love upon what appears to us to be a template our deeds have prepared but which in fact bears little relationship to what, as it were, comes down. (more…)

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The density of the apostle Paul’s words makes some of them accessible only to the degree that life’s experience prepares us to hear them well. As he exults in the relationship-restoring labors of Christ, Paul brings even our suffering into those gifts of God about which he is notably unembarrassed:

And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Suffering produces endurance. How else could we gain such stamina? There is no leisurely access ramp to such deep waters, only a steep and rocky one whose stones turn ankles and puncture soft skin.

This endurance, in God’s economy, produces that character at which we are otherwise singularly unadept. Love—that perduring divine affection for people who merit nothing of it—molds this character into hope-giving shapes. This love is not given sparingly, but rather is poured out in our hearts by God’s very Spirit, now given to accompany us on our unaccomodating, endurance-mongering path.

Such is our lot. Paul finds reason to exult in it. So does the reader who has exhausted all other promising roads to endurance, character, and hope, finding that each one disappears into the bush leaving no recourse but to return again to more sturdy beginnings.

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Twice in this short prayer the psalmist urges God to move more quickly. He knows his own extinction will be the price of divine nonchalance:

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O LORD, make haste to help me! (Psalm 70:1 NRSV)

And again:

But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O LORD, do not delay!

While he waits for God to show a proper sense of urgency, the pray-er divides humankind into that simple dualism which impresses itself upon the harassed mind as the truest description of his neighbors. Exquisitely, both parties are on a quest. One seeks the psalmist’s life. The other pursues God.

Artistry here captures in brief what in another genre fills tomes of sociology and psychology, as it should. The psalmist, faced with his demise, has little time for the details in which a more leisurely science indulges. As he’s been pushed closer to the cliff, an urgent reductionism has become his philosophy. (more…)

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The sixty-eighty Psalm refers to a marching deity with an archaic expression that might be translated as titular: ‘He of Sinai’.

Israel’s faith does not begin with abstractions nor with generalizations about a cosmic deity and his unchanging rules. Rather, faith in YHWH begins for Israel with memory of an upending liberation from the invincible power that was Egypt, her captor. In time, Israel’s faith will generate exquisite statements about creation and its solidity, about the timeless structures of reality under YHWH’s rule, about the wisdom that is required to inhabit such a place. (more…)

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Biblical spirituality comprehends that extreme crisis of body and soul in which a human being finds himself terrified, anguished, and undone in the presence of YHWH. At times the soul’s calamity experiences YHWH’s accusing silence as his only, unholy communication:

O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger,
or discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.
My soul also is struck with terror,
while you, O LORD—how long? (Psalm 6:1-3 NRSV)

Bold, fear-challenging vigor comes to us in such prayers. They provide words for that moment when few seem capable of taking up the angst that seems sufficient to kill us but chooses instead the less bearable determination to prolong our suffering while the heavens remain silent. (more…)

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The biblical psalms are intensely realistic, particularly those that are born in a bed of conflict.

No pious evasiveness, no pollyanish denial shows its face in this genre of the biblical anthology. One counts the enemy with subdued precision, missing not a one. Indeed the third psalm, a point in the psalter when things are only just finding their stride, begins with just such a declaration:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me. (Psalm 3.1 ESV)


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