Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
I was reminded of this verse yesterday. It isn’t that I have been out inspecting other people’s eyes for specks or anything. In fact, I would say I have been keeping pretty much to myself lately (as you may have noticed from the slow-down in post frequency). But someone I love noticed the log that I wasn’t noticing in my own eye, and brought it to my attention.
How is it that we can be oblivious to our own issues? How do we miss our own behaviour and attitude changes? Jesus was really talking about not being hypocritical in our dealings with the failures or problems of others. He was talking about the habit many have of passing judgement on others while not considering for a moment their own guilt. That is not the type of thing I’m talking about here.
There is a lot of value in watching out for the logs in the eyes and lives of our friends and families. Often the first people to notice symptoms of physical or mental illness are not the people who have them, but those around them who can see changes which otherwise might go unnoticed. The biggest signs to watch for for most mental and many physical illness are change. Changes in eating and sleep habits, mood, communication, focus, etc. can be warning signs for many things, but the person who has had them gradually develop in their own lives often don’t even realize they have happened.
Keep your eyes peeled for logs in the eyes of your friends and loved ones rather than the specks. Don’t assume that, just because they are so obvious, the people will notice on their own. If you see one, let them know and make yourself available to help them if they need it. Now, that is love!
In Luke 7:36-8:3 we read the story of Jesus’ dinner at the home of a Pharisee. When he had arrived he was given none of the regular special treatment that would normally have been given to an honoured guest. When the woman he considered to be a sinner bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, kissed his feet and anointed them with ointment the host complained that the woman shouldn’t be touching him. The host went even further, saying that the fact that he allowed it was sure proof that Jesus was not a prophet. In response, Jesus told story about two men whose debts were forgiven and Pharisee agreed that the one forgiven more would be more grateful, he then showed how the woman had honoured him according to her great gratitude, while the Pharisee had not been very grateful at all. Jesus told the woman her sins were forgiven.
My friend and colleague Ron has much to forgive, and I feel honoured that he has given me permission to share a little of his story with you…Ron is from the Tobique Nation and used to teach with me at the High School in Oromocto. He is a keeper of the sweat. Growing up was a real combination of family and culture on reserve and discrimination off. He had friends who were taken to residential school. He went to day school with the nuns in his area for four years, and then to the regular local schools. His mother taught him to run home if he saw the RCMP and priest together. Ron tells of the culture shock of the school system and people assuming that he was stupid. Any time anything went wrong at the school they would round up all the native kids and line them up in the gym and demand a confession. They would leave them there for hours as there was most often nothing to confess. Ron and the other kids from the First Nation were treated just as the woman in the Gospel reading. And yet they had done nothing to deserve this. They were born, as were we all, just as God had intended, loved by God just as much.
At the General Assembly in 2010 time was spent looking about issues of the indigenous peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One speaker was Chief Terry Paul of the Membertou First Nation, a Mi’kmaq community in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Chief Paul offered a glimpse into his painful experience with the residential school program: “For me, the residential schools issue is very difficult to think about, let alone talk about, to go back to that five-year-old that I left behind. I blamed government, religions, even God for what happened. But it was people that did this. And here I am today, ready to forgive. I am not only a survivor; I am a witness to this horrible history.”
Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Marie Wilson then shared with the Assembly some insight into the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “A huge part of the story of the Commission is about our failure in the past to see the universally sacred, and revisit that,” the commission “is not a national guilt trip, but Canada’s chance to breathe new life into what the Constitution says.”
Wilson stated that “the point of residential schools was to remove the Indian from the child, so within a few decades there would be no ‘Indian problem’,” with the result that “three and four-year-old children were removed from their families and put into isolated communities, going months and years without family contact.” She asked the Commissioners, “What would you do if they came to take your child, just learning to talk, barely out of diapers?” One of the seven Truth and Reconciliation national events is coming up October 26-29th, 2011 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We continue to need to promote healing and reconciliation.
gkisedtanamoogk is a member of the Wampanoag Nation from Mashpee, “Massachusetts.” He is married to a woman from the Mi’kmaq Nation and lives with his wife and children at Esgenoopotiitj. Both the Wampanoag and Micmac Nations are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy of Nations. Gkisedtanamoogk works hard to educate and guide his people on the red path, and to open the eyes of non-aboriginal people to their unique way of viewing the world. In his book co-authored by Frances Hancock, Ceremony is Life Itself, he expresses what it is to live your life spirituality better than I have found it almost anywhere else…
“We structure our life on a Ceremonial Cycle…Our whole way of Life, Ceremonially speaking, is one continuous Song, one continuous Ceremony. The way we move is a Dance. Ceremony is Life itself. It is the way we do things. Ceremony, to us, is the daily Life; everything we do, everything we think about is all part of that same expression. From Planting the Corn to raising the Sacred Bundle, the Children, we are conscious that all Life is Sacred, that all Life is a Song; and we are thankful for it.”
“The construction of Giving Thanks is literally: I am exposing my enoughness, my fullness. It expresses that my needs are met. The condition of expressing that my needs are met, that the needs are met, is what we call Thanksgiving…I am up this morning. I have Life. I have risen/ I have come from the Sleep Time, the Dream Time…All that should govern us as Human Beings is our Honoring of the Creator, our honoring of all our Relatives….That is the whole meaning of our Existence: becoming one with the Great Mother and All Our Relations.”
The next time someone greets you with, “How are you?” or, “Donnegok?” I pray that you will be able to respond with, “Mejedebesquin!”
Posted in Faith, Justice, Reflections
Tagged aboriginal, faith, First Nation, God, indigenous peoples, justice, problems, spirituality, survival, Turtle Island
How do you greet people when you meet them? At King’s Landing Historical Settlement we said “Good day,” at the high school some kids say hi by pushing each other into lockers, hi, hey, bonjour, beunos dias… When I wanted to learn some Korean I learned how to say their greeting, “anyong haseyo”, and one year during Native Awareness week at school they taught us a bunch of nouns, but I asked how to say hello in Maliseet. An informal greeting like “hey” is “quay” but the main greeting is “Donnegok”, how are you?
At the end of this month, Halifax will be hosting the Truth And Reconciliation Commission hearings. I am not an indigenous person and I make no pretense to even the slightest degree of expertise on the topic of Canada’s indigenous peoples. But, I love to learn, and there is much to learn from our indigenous brothers and sisters, especially about our stewardship of creation, and how to live a truly spirit filled life.
I am going to use the two stories; 1 Kings 21:1-10 (11-14) 15-21a, and Luke 7:36-8:3, and stories of three of my indigenous contacts to look at the answer to Donnegok… “Mejedebesquin”, I am one.
In Psalm 5:1-8 we read,
“4For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.
5The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.”
All of those negative descriptions are what King Ahab and his pagan wife Jezebel represent. Ahab was spoiled. At his secondary palace in Jezreel, there was a neighbour, Naboth, who owned a vineyard which had been in his family for generations. Ahab wanted to take this land away from the person who had it and turn it into a vegetable garden next door for his own convenience. He offered either replacement land or the equivalent in cash. The answer he received was, “The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.” Ahab wasn’t used to hearing no and he became depressed. He told his wife about it and she told him not to worry. She set up a plot which resulted in the death of Naboth thus allowing Ahab to have his garden. While Ahab was in the middle of this garden he had taken through villainy, God sent the message that he was not pleased.
There are several underlying question here. First of all was the land either of theirs to give? And even if it was theirs, how could you put an appropriate price on the land of one’s ancestors? In Turtle Island (the continent of North America) “fair deals” and cheating, lying, and trickery have long been used to deprive the indigenous peoples of their ancestral lands. Deals were made but not honoured, diseased blankets were “given” out in a very successful gamut to kill off large populations, reservations were formed and the people restricted from using the land in the traditional manner.
My friend Hugh Akagi is the chief of the Passamaquoddy people whose land straddles the Canada-US border and includes St. Andrew’s New Brunswick. This First Nation is recognized only on the US side of the border. As Hugh says, when he is on this side of the border he fades in and out because according to the government of Canada, he doesn’t exist. You may read his letter which was written to the United Nations in 2002 at http://www.sipayik.com/akagi’s_appeal_to_the_un.htm
Posted in church, Faith, Justice, Reflections
Tagged faith, First Nation, God, indigenous peoples, justice, love, problems, survival, Truth and Reconciliation, Turtle Island, UNDRIP
As most people on the Eastern seaboard know, hurricane Irene has been developing and then moving northward for several days now. In her wake she has been leaving destruction, cancellations, power outages and deaths. They have been broadcasting warnings to prepare for emergency survival for days now. In areas used to hurricanes and tornadoes I imagine everyone takes the warnings very seriously. In New Brunswick, where the storms are almost always downgraded and getting tired before they reach us, I think a lot of people talk about the upcoming bad weather but then don’t really do anything much to prepare. Boaters take precautions to ensure their boats are neither smashed against the docks, nor set loose from moorings. One of my friends on Face Book said we are supposed to be making 72 hour survival kits and practicing escape routes, but I only heard of one person actually stocking up on water and groceries.
This reminds me of the story of Noah’s Ark (Genesis 6-9). God had warned people that they needed to make changes, repent and live according to His laws. They didn’t. He warned of consequences. They ignored Him. Only Noah listened and took the directions God gave to prepare for surviving the storm. Everyone else went about their everyday lives, taking time out to gossip and laugh about Noah and the huge boat he was building in the middle of dry land. As you know, however, Noah and his family were the only ones to survive the flood of which everyone had been warned! Why didn’t the others listen? Why do most of us still not listen when we are given advance warning?
Clearly Irene is not a storm of the magnitude of the one which caused the Great Flood! It is not going to rain for forty days, and forty nights. If we are ignoring the warnings about this storm, though, what greater warnings may we likewise be ignoring? Are we so comfortable and complacent that we don’t realize the dangers our souls face in the midst of our modern societies? If you have been hit by hurricane Irene (or tropical storm) I pray that you are safe and unharmed and surrounded by your family. For those still in the path, take reasonable precautions and then maybe take some time to watch the rain and the trees swaying in the wind, remember that we have been warned, and pray that we are ready to hear and heed your warnings about upcoming storms in our lives so that we may, like Noah, be prepared and, with God’s help, survive!
Posted in Reflections
Tagged Bible, Christianity, faith, God, hurricane, Irene, listening to God, prayer, preparations, problems, reflection, storms, survival, warnings, worry
As I was driving up to Montreal last week I drove past countless fields at various stages of planting. Some fields were bare, with the earth prepared and awaiting seed, some were newly planted with a bright fresh crop of green or yellow covering them, some were burned over and likely to be left fallow for the summer, and between them all there were wild areas with an abundance of plant life most would call weeds. What do we see when we look at ourselves, our congregations, families,colleagues etc.? Do we see fertile ground awaiting seed, rows of plants growing to bear seed, or a tangled mess of weeds?
Living Faith 4.2.1 says, “The Spirit enables people to receive the good news of Christ, to repent of their sins, and to be adopted as children of God…the Spirit enabled us to believe.” Living Faith 6.1.2 “God brings us to faith in many ways. We may have trusted in God from childhood; or our faith may have come later in life. Faith may come suddenly or only after a struggle to believe.”
Given these statements, it is clear that it is not really you and I who are bringing people to faith. The job of sowing faith is the work of the Spirit through the Word. It is with this understanding that we come to the parable of the Sower and the Seed this morning ( Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23).
Have you ever prepared a garden bed? There are many things that need to be removed; sod, old patio stones, weeds, and rocks in the ground. Whether in our own hearts or those of others we’ll need to remove preconceptions and prejudices against Christianity and or the church as an institution, negative prior experiences, hurts, and fears. Some of us have built up walls around our hearts which may take considerable care to break down. Sledge hammers are never called for, and it is important to save all we can of the soil. Our primary tools for this work are our open minds, our love, compassion and our listening skills. Once cleared, we add fertilizer of some kind in order to aid in the growth of the plants. Here we apply such offerings as Sunday School, Bible studies, service groups, book clubs, VBS, and of course heartfelt weekly worship. Even if all hearts are already prepared to receive the Word, care needs to be taken over time to watch out for and remove any weeds which may come up and attempt to take over, and the weeds are many and insidious.
I can easily justify my lack of follow-through in my garden at home. After all, if I don’t support the local farmers by buying their produce I am contributing to the economic decline, right? The problem is, at the end of the day I will still have the hearty crop of weeds there reminding me daily of my failure. There will, however be another spring and another chance to get the job done properly. Those of us in the church would do well to
remember that only ¼ of the seed in the parable turned out to be productive. Numbers are not everything! The number of people in the pews on Sunday, the number of children in Sunday school each week, the total number of families and members, don’t need to cause stress. When they are high we may be on the top of the world and feel that we are truly doing the work of the Kingdom, and when they are low we may fear for the survival of our congregation. Even if our programs or events seem less successful than we would like, so long as one plot of soil was readied, or one seed planted we have done well.
Whatever Kingdom gardening we may be doing, we need to remember to take time out to praise and worship the Father who has sown the word in our lives, the Son who is that word, and the Spirit who inspires us to listen.
Living Faith is the Statement of Christian Belief of the Presbyterian Church in Canada and can be downloaded at http://www.presbyterian.ca/resources/online/2447
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged attendance, Bible, Bible study, blog, change, Christianity, church, details, distractions, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, improvement, Jesus, Kingdom, listening skills, Living Faith, love, Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, numbers, patio stones, Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in Canada, problems, promise, rocks, sledge hammers, Statement of Christian Belief, Sunday school, survival, weeds, worship
On Feb 20th I wrote a post I titled, While Visions Of Seed Packets Danced in My Head (http://wp.me/p1hsO8-6p). At that time, with my garden under a foot of snow, I was distracted from tidying the living room by the lure of a gardening book. An hour later there I was with my pencil and paper making plans for what to plant in my vegetable garden and wondering if last year’s compost would be ready to use. As soon as the snow cleared, sometime in April, I was out in the back yard with my work boots and gloves on, and my tiller in hand turning soil and getting all the weeds out of a section of the
garden. I got about half the area cleared that day before hitting the shower. Time passed……a little over a week ago I was sitting on my deck with a lovely view of what was once bare earth and is now covered with weeds of various types, many taller than my tiller which is still stuck in the ground where I left off.
The Gospel reading this morning, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, is all about gardening, or agriculture to be more specific. In this very familiar parable Jesus shares a story with a crowd of people beside the Sea of Galilee, so large that he actually gets into a boat to get free of the press of people. He talks of something with which all these people would be familiar, a man, the sower, planting seed. This man has a “packet” of seed. We assume that all the seed is basically the same and equally capable of growing and bearing a good
yield. Some of his seeds fall on the path and are snatched up by birds, some fall on rocky ground where they begin to grow but with shallow roots they shrivel up under the sun. Some of the seeds fall among the weeds where they begin to grow only to be choked off by the weeds. Some of the seed falls on good soil, grows and provides an extraordinary harvest. He sows all his seed, but in the end only one quarter of the seed produced a
harvest. Interestingly, the harvest was many times more than might have been expected from the whole amount of seed
Israel, situated as it was in the Fertile Crescent, was a culture which based on agriculture and much of the imagery in the Old
Testament was related to sowing and reaping. Their laws included regulations on when and where to plant, what kind of
seeds to plant, when they should harvest, and even what to do with any grain left in the field. They were used to God being referred to as the sower. In creation he planted every plant of every kind in the Garden of Eden. He is variously said to have sown Israel and Judah into the land, sown peace in Zion, and sown righteousness in the nations.
For the most part, although they were familiar with the trials of farming and the vagaries of rocks, birds, and weeds, people didn’t understand the point of Jesus’ story. The disciples, who didn’t get the point either, had the benefit of Jesus’ extra time and patience when he explained it to them later, when they are alone together. Unlike in the Old Testament, in the New Testament the imagery of the sower is used to represent the sowing of the Kingdom. Jesus explains to the disciples that the seeds in his story represent the Word of God. When the Word does not get into the soil at all, on the path, it is stolen by “the evil one.” For the other examples, where the seed reaches the soil, our hearts, the image refers to what happens with us. Sometimes we are turned away by troubles or persecution for our beliefs, sometimes overwhelmed by the distractions of the secular world, and sometimes the seed takes root and we produce a good harvest.
There are many ways of interpreting the message of this parable for our lives. Are we meant to look at ourselves as the soil, the seed, the plant, the sower, or the harvest? If Jesus is the seed and we are the soil, what kinds of harvest how can our soil provide a
better harvest. If we are a seed and plant and we produce a good harvest, what form does that take? A lot of time is spent in considering the present condition of the soils. One interpretation I read took the view that within each of us we may have areas of
all the types of soil, thus when the seed is sown some of it may find good soil while other parts of us are unwilling to yield. All of these points are worth consideration, however, when I first thought about this week’s readings it occurred to me that maybe we aren’t supposed to focus so much on the current condition of the soils in the Parable and which type we are ourselves, nor on how we can do a better job of sowing the Kingdom in our communities, but on what we do in our churches and ministries
to prepare the soil for planting.
Posted in Bible Study, Faith, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, blog, change, Christianity, church, details, distractions, faith, God, help, Holy Spirit, improvement, Jesus, love, Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23, Presbyterian Church, problems, promise, survival
I just came out of a restaurant with my parents having finished a great meal and, of course, feeling over-stuffed! Even having ordered the “mini” plate of liver and onions I was unable to finish all the fries. Don’t get me wrong though, I still had carrot cake for dessert!
A few days ago a friend sent me the following email which included pictures of families with the food they would eat in an average week on display.
“Quite a powerful story in pictures. What is eaten in one week around the world? Very interesting assortment. Note the large amount of drinks in some pictures.This is undoubtedly one of the most interesting e-mails I’ve ever received. Take a good look at the family size & diet of each country, and the availability & cost of what is eaten in one week.
Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide, Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina(Sure hope most American families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily, Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca, Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna, Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27
Egypt : The Ahmed family of Cairo, Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador : The Ayme family of Tingo, Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan : The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village, Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad : The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp, Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23
Don’t know about you, but right about now, I’m counting my blessings!”
It is a pretty stark picture of the plenty with which most of us live, while others are smiling and proud to display what we would consider to be barely enough. Growing up many of us were told to consider the starving Armenians when we didn’t finish all our supper. Obviously our parents were hardly planning to send our left-overs overseas, but they were on track with their mention of the need to stop and think about the lack of balance in food distribution worldwide.
Posted in Justice, Reflections
Tagged change, choices, Christianity, consumption, details, faith, food, gluttony, help, improvement, justice, kindness, love, plenty, problems, reflection
I think it is safe to say that there are still prophetic voices out there in the world today, probably not being paid much attention. I think it is also clear that there are many people who get their five minutes of fame by predicting doom over one issue or another and they seem to be paid a great deal of attention.
I got the idea for this post a while ago while watching When Harry Met Sally with my daughters. As he states himself, Harry has a dark side. Particularly in the early part of the movie Harry makes many pronouncements which, while not necessarily without basis in reality, would suck the enjoyment out of almost any moment! For instance;
Harry Burns: You take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of the relationship. That’s why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship.
Sally Albright: Why?
Harry Burns: Because eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?
Sally Albright: Its amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.
Later he and Sally actually discuss this tendency to the dark side;
Sally Albright: I have just as much of a dark side as the next person.
Harry Burns: Oh, really? When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.
A doomsayer is “one given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity” (http://www.merriam-webster.com) Harry, is a doomsayer! Another good candidate for the title of doomsayer would be Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh;
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.”Why, what’s the matter?””Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.””Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.”Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
If predicting calamity is what it takes to be a doomsayer, then why do we not have a section in the Bible after the Pentateuch and Psalms and Wisdom Literature called Doomsayings? If you read the beginning of many of the stories in the books of the prophets, they begin with warnings of catastrophe about to befall the people of Israel who have strayed from the ways of the Lord in one way or another. Predictions of pandemics, military defeat, destruction of the Temple, and being taken into captivity abound! I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to invite a prophet to dinner at my house for fear they may have just such a message for me.
A prophet is,“one who utters divinely inspired revelations: as a often capitalized : the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible b capitalized : one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will <Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah> 2: one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially : an inspired poet 3: one who foretells future events : predictor” (http://www.merriam-webster.com)
The fundamental difference is that a prophet is divinely inspired. The messages prophets share with the people around them are the words of God. Some prophets in the past were pretty unhappy to be called upon to give the message they were told. Jonah really didn’t want to help out the people of Nineveh and even ran away, but that didn’t end well for him and he delivered his message in the end. There are stories of prophets hiding in caves in the wilderness to avoid crowds who were out to get them. In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah, having challenged the prophets of Baal and won, ran away to a cave on Mt. Sinai to hide from Queen Jezebel who had vowed to kill him.
Regardless of the message a prophet may carry to us, our problem remains. How can we tell when we are hearing from a true prophet and not a doomsayer? Recently there was an individual who “prophesied” the coming of the rapture. He claimed that the date and time were to be found written in Bible. Many people were convinced by this prediction, some even selling all they had. Many took it as a joke and there were many photos posted on Twitter of people’s clothing laid out as if they had just vanished from within them.
Our best hope is to look to the Bible to determine validity of such claims. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32) This is also stated in Matthew 24:36 and echoed again in Acts. If our doomsayer of the day had really been speaking words from God, he would have known that the hour and the day would not be written in the Bible.’ Through study and prayer we seek the truth of God.
Posted in Bible Study, Reflections
Tagged Bible, calamity, catastrophe, Christianity, church, doomsayer, Eeyore, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, justice, leadership, love, Pentateuch, prayer, problems, promise, prophets, Psalms, Rapture, rapture predicted, reflection, sin, stress, survival, When Harry Met Sally, Winnie the Pooh, Wisdom Literature
If you look at the Revised Common Lectionary listing of Bible readings over a three year period you will notice that while in theory it covers the whole Bible in each cycle there are parts you may never hear preached. Thankfully one section in this category includes most of the book of Numbers which contain seemingly endless lists of genealogies. One of the most curious things is that even with the Psalms there are frequently parts of the Psalm which are not designated as a part of the reading. For example; two of the Sundays in June had small pieces removed from the Psalms in the RCL. On June 5 we read Psalm 68 but left out verses 11-31. On June 12 the reading was Psalm 104 and we left out verses 1 -24 and 35A.
If you read these Psalms responsively in your worship service, these skipped sections can lead to confusion for the congregation as well as the minister, unless you print them out. What could be so wrong with Psalm 68 verses 11-31 that would deem it unusable in worship. It is a part of the Bible, that is not denied, the planners of the lectionaries, though, presumably thought it best to skip them.
11 The Lord gives the command;
great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
12 ‘The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!’
The women at home divide the spoil,
13 though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
snow fell on Zalmon.
15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
at the mount that God desired for his abode,
where the Lord will reside for ever?
17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
thousands upon thousands,
the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
who daily bears us up;
God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said,
‘I will bring them back from Bashan,
I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.’
24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
between them girls playing tambourines:
26 ‘Bless God in the great congregation,
the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!’
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
the princes of Judah in a body,
the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.
28 Summon your might, O God;
show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.
I assume that in the case of the above verses there were a couple of concerns. In many of the verses God is portrayed in a very militaristic and vengeful light. God’s army is huge, will shatter the heads of the enemies, there is talk of feeding the enemy to the dogs and the victors bathing their feet in blood. Yuck! One of the things that is most disturbing about reading in the Old Testament comes from this sort of portrayal. This is not the loving God with whom we grew up in the mainline churches! The other thing I noticed was how much God’s desire of a mountain top abode, receiving of gifts etc. reminds me of what I have taught for years in my unit on Mesopotamia and other ancient civilizations. This is not surprising exactly, but in early days it would have been very important to distance Christianity from pagan practices.
Would the reasons be the same for Psalm 104?
God the Creator and Provider
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
2 wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3 you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4 you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.
5 You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
6 You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8 They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
11 giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
15 and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
19 You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
23 People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
As you could see, Psalm 104:1-24 had none of the more disturbing elements to it at all. Paired in the lectionary as it is with the creation story from Genesis, I think we can be fairly certain that this shortening was done for time. The Genesis reading is long and covers all the same ground as in verses. Verse 35A however consigns sinners to be consumed (one assumes by fire) which seems contrary to the concept of Christian love.
I wonder if we do too much of this covering up, or brushing aside, the uncomfortable parts of the Bible. I certainly understand that one might not want your five-year-old repeating lines about feeding their enemies to the dogs, or bathing their feet in blood. My concern is that it is a little like issues of family violence. People didn’t ever talk about family violence. It was something to keep behind closed doors. Neighbors might be somewhat aware that things were happening, but would never think to ask or offer help. What ends up happening, in the case of the Bible, is that we educate Christians while side-stepping the issues, and then later when they come across these verses in their own study they are ill prepared to deal with them. I know I wasn’t prepared the first time I seriously sat down and read the Old Testament!
I’m not sure what a solution might be. Perhaps we need to be offering Bible studies on the unpalatable parts, but then, being so unpalatable, who would attend? I do feel, however that it is important to get the verses out of their plain paper bags, and into the open.
Posted in Bible Study, Lectionary, Reflections
Tagged Bible, Bible study, blood-thirsty God?, change, choices, Christian Education, Christianity, church, controversy, cover-ups, details, enemies, faith, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, leadership, Lectionary, Mesopotamia, pagan, philosophy, preaching, problems, Psalm 104, Psalm 68, Psalms, reflection, sin
I’m looking across the room at a picture of Winnie the Pooh in his classic thinking pose. His eyes are scrunched closed, one arm is around his chest and this other hand is up to his temple. Even looking at the picture I can hear him saying, “Think, think, think.” Maybe he is trying to think of an answer to a question piglet has asked, or maybe he is working on a hum, but he is thinking hard!
Here at the front of the room the same scenario is playing out. OK, I’m not physically squinting my eyes or knocking on my temple, but I am mentally trying to squeeze some kind of coherent thought out. I have an assortment of posts in the works at the moment, but they are stalled at some point or other. Some are just cool titles at the moment, while others were going along fine until I hit a mental snag on a point of logic or an annoying fact making my conclusion questionable.
There are various ways I get around this. Today’s choice was to write about the block itself rather than try to dislodge it from my path. Other options which I often use for blog writing include; saving my work and then choosing tags, previewing the post as it stands, heading off to http://creativecommons.comto find a good image to use, doing a spell check, or fixing the font and paragraph spacing. If all of these distractions fail to help me reach the dangling strand of my thought, I just stop for a while and do something totally unrelated.
There are times when the strands just won’t be caught and I eventually give up on the post altogether. Those bits often come back at a later date when they end up fitting like the missing puzzle piece into a completely different topic. I’m sure you are familiar with the adage, “I think, therefore I am.” It is the thinking that really matters and a slight change of focus can make all the difference.
Posted in Pet Peeves, Reflections
Tagged blog, details, distractions, help, improvement, Piglet, problems, quiet, reflection, survival, think, thinking, Winnie the Pooh, writer's block, writing