Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Walls I’m Trapped Within

Sometimes there are walls in my mind
That I don’t want to admit are there
Until I smack into them and they hold me inside
They block up my ears so I no longer hear
They cover my vision so I no longer see
And they surround my heart to keep me from feeling
At some point I created these walls and hid inside
And I stand on one side and you on the other
But don’t give up hope on me lost in my prison
If I run up against the wall time after time
Eventually the mortar will begin to fall and stones break free
Perhaps your story will slip to the cracks to my ears
Or through a broken brick I might catch a glimpse of you
Or like the wall my heart might wind up broken
And like the walls of Jericho the might come a tumblin’ down
So together we might stand side by side

Psalm 14- The Wisdom of Holding to the Covenant

Jozsef Somogyi's statue of the Tired Man in Mako, Hungary

Jozsef Somogyi’s statue of the Tired Man in Mako, Hungary

Psalm 14

To the leader. Of David.
1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
   there is no one who does good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind
   to see if there are any who are wise,
   who seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
   there is no one who does good,
   no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
   who eat up my people as they eat bread,
   and do not call upon the LORD?
5 There they shall be in great terror,
   for God is with the company of the righteous.
6 You would confound the plans of the poor,
   but the LORD is their refuge.
7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
   When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
   Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

In the ancient Middle East the idea of a godless world is unknown. However, in the Psalmist’s time and in every time there are those who functioned as practical atheists, whose spoken beliefs had little or no impact on their decisions throughout their lives. The heart in the Hebrew world view was not the seat of emotion but the seat of decision making and will. The heart is where actions spring from. Note that the Psalm does not say ‘Fools say with their mouths’ but ‘Fools say in their hearts.’ As the Psalm unfolds we see the way that the foolish actions are really actions against the covenant that God has made with the people of Israel. The LORD looks for those who are seeking the will of God. As Psalm 1 can state, “but their (the wise/righteous) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night.” (Psalm 1.2)

The fool is known by what they do and their actions reflect a betrayal of the justice that was considered essential to the covenant.  The book of Deuteronomy dwells frequently on the fear that the people in prosperity will “forget the LORD their God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances and his statutes,” (Deuteronomy 8. 11) and the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien will be denied justice. When the acquisition of wealth becomes more important than the neighbor then the people have forgotten the LORD their God. When the people turn away from placing God at the center of their day to day actions and decisions the result is the perversion of the covenant people. They are no longer the salt of the earth but rather they are corrupt and their corruption spreads to everything around them. The actions of the people have consequences for not only themselves, but also for the community and the very land that they live upon.

The language of the Psalm also reaches into the language of the prophetic. The dark line speaking about the wicked “who eat up my people as they eat bread,” reaches a fuller exposition in Micah. In Micah, speaking to the rulers who have turned away from the covenant, the prophet can say:

you who hate good and love evil, who tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a caldron. (Micah 3. 2f.)

And yet these same leaders may use their words to cry upon the LORD, but God will not answer them.

Unlike Psalm 13 which cries out for immediate action, Psalm 14 takes more of a tone of the inevitability of God’s action on behalf of the poor. The hearer is cautioned to take the way of the wise and the side of the poor for that is the side of God. God hears and sees and protects the powerless and the vulnerable. Those wise whose hearts are turned to God know that their actions towards the vulnerable and the powerless are also seen and weighed by God.

A biblical image that comes to mind with this Psalm is the ending of Solomon’s reign and the beginning of his son, Rehoboam’s reign. Solomon is initially lifted up as being wise and following the way of the LORD but in 1 Kings 11 Solomon’s heart is turned away from the LORD. When he dies and his son takes the throne there is already conflict within the nation of Israel, the economic policies of Solomon have placed a heavy burden on the population and the assembly of Israel asks for relief from Rehoboam. Rehoboam refuses to relieve any of the economic burdens on the people and the kingdom is spit in two, never to be united again. (1 Kings 12) The book of Kings looks upon this split as God’s judgment upon the house of David for turning their heart away from the LORD, even though God did not act in supernatural ways but rather simply didn’t sustain the reign of the line of David over the entire house of Israel.

So how do we approach this Psalm in our secular world that is influenced by global economic corporations? For me the Psalm speaks to the faithful as a way of remembering what is it to set one’s heart upon the LORD and how loving the LORD with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength is linked to loving and protecting one’s neighbor. When we forget this connection we too can become corrupt and allow the community and the environment around us to become corrupted by short term economic interests at the expense of our neighbor. Entering into the prophetic worldview of the scriptures forces us to consider the impact of the decisions we make upon the life of my neighbor’s and especially the lives of the vulnerable.


Mosaic from the parish church of Saint Michael and Saint Peter, Antwerp

Mosaic from the parish church of Saint Michael and Saint Peter, Antwerp

Looking back on all the pieces of my life
Is not like looking at a picture composed on a canvas
That brings together the palette of colors and shades
To paint a portrait of a person who emerges whole
Stepping forth from the dreams and imagination
Nor is it like a sculpture chiseled out of the stone
Seeing the beauty that rested within the raw resources
Standing unchanging and immovable once complete
Where the finished product is merely a skilled refining
Calling forth the potential residing within the granite
No, the artist who worked on my life must love mosaics
Being able to pull together the discordant colors and jagged edges
Patiently arranging the broken pieces to see something larger
Seeing something of hidden beauty among the broken shards
Using the mortar of life to bring together the shattered stone

Living Brave Reflection 11- Integrating Stories

Mosaic from the parish church of Saint Michael and Saint Peter, Antwerp

Mosaic from the parish church of Saint Michael and Saint Peter, Antwerp

I’ve often joked that the pieces of my story don’t easily fit together in one life. I was a civil engineering major in college, an officer in the military, a seminarian and later a pastor. I lived in seven states in my adult life (which means I’ve moved frequently) am a father to two kids both very bright. I had to figure out how I would raise my son who is high functioning autistic and be a long distance father to my daughter after my divorce. I had to figure out how to date again in my late 30s and early 40s and then learn how to be married again after being single for five years. I’ve had to go back to the moments of crisis and learn from them, seeing the ways in which they knit together all the different pieces of the story. How the heartbreaks could lead to a new place of wholeness and healing and how the transitions became the opportunity for new beginnings and adventures. It hasn’t always been easy but overall it has been good. I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without any one piece of my story, but my story is (hopefully) far from over and I have a lot I still want to write.

In many respects I am amazed at how far I have come. The journey has changed me in drastic ways but I am proud of who I have grown to be. I may not always be the hero in my own narrative, life is more complex than that, but I feel like I have grown wiser in the joy and suffering of my life. There are times where I regret the opportunities to show kindness that I turned away from but I am also cherish the times where I was compassionate enough to see another’s need and not to turn away. There may be times where I was an easy mark, where forgiveness left me vulnerable to being hurt again and yet, I wouldn’t change that. That is a part of the person I want to be, a person who can see the best in others and can hope to make a difference in some small way.

Perhaps the learning comes from the way in which I have allowed myself the grace to be the complex mosaic of stories and experiences and feelings that I am. Rather than trying to mold myself into some monolithic image to allow the plurality of facets of myself to be seen. Perhaps a part of the difference between the immediate emotion and the later understanding of the broader story comes in the forgiveness I can extend to others and me, in learning to be open to not just giving help but receiving it. Perhaps in learning the story of my own heart and claiming it I have found the courage to own my stories and to enjoy living with them not in some nostalgic way, longing to return to the past, but more as pieces of a journey that brought me to the place I am today.


Psalm 13- The Cry from the God Forsaken Place

Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)

Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922)

Psalm 13

To the leader. A Psalm of David
1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
   How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
   and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
   How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
   Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
   my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
   my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
   because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Psalm 13 is one of the examples used to talk about a Psalm of lament because it comes out of the experience of struggle and strife and calls upon God to act upon the crisis that the faithful one is experiencing. The crisis is not only a physical or emotional crisis but for the Psalmist, at its core, it is a theological crisis. The confident opening of the Psalter with Psalm 1 that sings about how the LORD watches over the righteous and the way of the wicked perishing is called into crisis by the moment of conflict where God seems to have forsaken the one lifting up this prayer. In the midst of the crisis the Psalmist cries out to the LORD and calls upon God to act.

This type of bold prayer, which calls upon God to act and to intervene, might seem unusual for many people. Many Christians were taught growing up that you didn’t accuse God or question God’s motives and that prayers were always to be polite and stoic. Although this view is common it has little to do with the Biblical model of prayer or the relationship of many of the faithful with God. Jeremiah, for example, makes numerous accusations towards God throughout the book of Jeremiah, Job also can cry out and expect God to act upon his complaints, and finally the Psalter is full of powerful, unfiltered emotions that are directed towards God and wrestle with the LORD who can bring about a resolution to the struggle. It takes courage to ‘gird up ones loins’ and stand before God in this manner, to be willing to accuse God in failing in God’s responsibility to maintain faithfulness and watchfulness as a covenant partner. The Psalmist views the relationship with God as pivotal for their life and if God turns God’s face away and removes God’s protection and allows the enemy to prosper and prevail then God is not fulfilling God’s part of the relationship. The Psalmist’s faith is strong enough to confront God that all is not right in God’s creation (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 163) and that God is the responsible party to ensure that the righteous are protected and the wicked are punished.

How long, which is repeated four times in the first half of the Psalm is not asking for a time period but rather for an immediate intervention. It is a rhetorical device that is common in African-American preaching to increase the intensity of the expectation and hope that change is coming for the way things are cannot be sustained in a creation where the LORD is paying attention and is active. For example Martin Luther King, Jr. in his speech in Montgomery, Alabama on March 25, 1965:

How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you still reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. How long? Not long, ‘cause mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’ (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 79)

How long will the Psalmist continue to cry out to God before God answers? The hope is certainly not long. In the God forsaken place that the Psalmist cries from they know that only the enemy’s triumph and the sleep of death wait for them. They are at the end of the strength and the end of their resources and despair is coldly creeping into their soul, and yet in an act of defiance the call out to their God to act on their behalf, to fulfill God’s promises and to rescue the righteous one from the triumph of the wicked.

The Psalm ends with a note of trust or perhaps, as many commentators believe, the Psalmist has seen God’s answer to their prayer. If the prayer is answered we have no way to know how long elapses between verse four and the final statements in verses five and six. Perhaps they come hours, days, weeks or even years later when the Psalmist now stands in a place where God’s face continues to shine upon them. Yet, perhaps the ending is not a triumphal as a final answer but the whisper of trust into the deafening depression of despair. From my own experiences there can be this type of internal dialogue in that place of hopelessness where one struggles with and for one’s faith. One can boldly cry out to God and call upon God to act in the situation. Even in that space where all one perceives is isolation there can still be that turning back to the foundations of one’s life. I have trusted in you before, your love has not failed in the past, the how long will be not long and even though I may not see it now I can trust that I will indeed sing the songs of the LORD again.

Living Brave Reflection 10- The Stories we Tell Ourselves

The Storyteller by

The Storyteller by

The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity and creativity. (Brown, 2015, p. 82)

As a pastor I have learned the power that stories have in peoples’ lives. We all look to different sources to make sense of our lives, whether in popular culture, in religion, in politics, in science and work or in many other sources we are searching for frames and stories that help make meaning of our lives and experiences. We all tell ourselves stories to make sense of our experience of the world and some of those stories are true, others are conspiracies and some become confabulations. As the quote above from Brené Brown indicates frequently those initial stories may be told at our own expense or at the expense of someone else.

A recent, light-hearted example of this story telling at work happened this past weekend for myself and my wife. On Friday morning, during my day off, I was working on the lawn while I had the laundry going. My washing machine was replaced in the past year but my dryer is getting older and I knew from the noises it was making that it was having some issues (and most likely a belt). So on Friday I came in from working outside, change a load of laundry and start the dryer and while I walk away I hear a loud ‘Thunk’ and the drum is no longer spinning. I decided to finish the lawn while I think about what to do next and I imagine several stories (calling someone to repair the dryer, purchasing a new dryer, trying to fix it myself) and so when I finished the lawn I searched on the internet for instructions on how to fix a belt on a dryer. The good news was that there were lots of instructions but there were none for my dryer specifically. I started trying to figure it out, initially with a set of directions that took me in the wrong direction. I invested a couple hours into opening up the dryer until I reached a point where I was stuck. I knew I needed to take a shield off so that I could get to where the belt was but I couldn’t figure out how to do it and I was telling myself several stories. The first story was that I had just made things worse and that who was I to think I could tackle a project like this where I didn’t have any expertise. Surely a technician could have had this project done within an hour. I also told myself that even if I could get this fixed that the dryer would surely not work right afterwards and that I really should just go out and purchase a new one (an expense I really didn’t want to have at the moment). My concerns about finances started to surface at that point (I had an $800 car repair just the week previous even though financially I am OK, it is just one of the things that triggers anxiety for me). I finally resolved that the worst case scenario was that the dryer was broken and that me continuing to take it apart wasn’t going to make it run any worse so I went back, found some instructions that were more helpful and within the hour I had the machine disassembled (with pieces strewn throughout the hallway) and ready to change the belt, if only I had one. The nearest place I could find that carried the part (after driving to a appliance repair parts store that was now closed in the local area) was around 45 minutes away and because I had to pick up my son from school I didn’t have the time to make the trip until after he would be picked up. I had moved through the initial stories, but now came another set of stories for someone else.

So my wife was working that day and around 3:30 I text her, “What time do you get off work?” Now this is unusual text from me without any additional information but she replies back, “4” but I later learned she was beginning to wonder what is going on? So my next text was, “How close are you to Garland?” and she was working from a different location than normally so she asks her co-workers and they told her about 15-20 minutes but she is wondering what is going on and trying to make sense of these two texts. She shared, later,  that she wondered if I had found someplace that I wanted to meet for supper and that maybe I was thinking of a nice date night for the two of us (a good story, unfortunately at that moment not a true one). So when she texted back that she was 15-20 minutes away, my next text gave her all the information she needed for a true story, “Can you go by the Sears parts and repair center at 1617 Kings Rd in Garland. I will order the dryer belt I need but that is the closest place to pick it up.” Fortunately she was a good sport, picked up the part (knowing now that it had nothing to do with a date night and that the dryer had broken) and within an hour of her being home I had the dryer fixed and it was running beautifully and we could later laugh about the miscommunication and the stories that were made up.

Frequently the stories we tell ourselves are not as light-hearted as the one above. I know there are many times where I have taken the limited facts I knew and created a story centered upon my own fears of failure or perceived weaknesses. There are times where I have interpreted the actions of another person in a way that may have nothing to do with their intentions or desires but instead are the remnants or scars from when other people have treated me in the past.  Sometimes the stories I tell are simply not true, or not the whole truth, and I’ve had to learn to challenge the stories, to get curious to see if they are true, to try not to get trapped in a story that sounds an awful lot like my fears and insecurities coming to the front.


Psalm 12-Save Us from Ourselves

Bible Paintings in Castra center, Haifa- David and Batsheva, David and Avshalom

Bible Paintings in Castra center, Haifa- David and Batsheva, David and Avshalom

Psalm 12

To the leader: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
   the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
  with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
   the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
   Our lips are our own—who is our master?”
 5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
   I will now rise up,” says the LORD;
  “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure,
   silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
   purified seven times.
7 You, O LORD, will protect us;
   you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
   as vileness is exalted among humankind.
The Psalm begins as a cry for help and while the cry may come from an individual the cry goes forth on behalf of a community that no longer is the place it was intended to be. What was dreamed to be a place of faithfulness and trustworthy people has turned into a place where tongues have been loosed, boasts have been made and community has been destroyed. The double-hearted nature of the community has broken the heart of the Psalmist and sent them into a search for hope in the midst of the empty words they see in a community that was meant to be something much different. In a toxic environment where the tongues of those who are seeking their own interests rule the day the community of the faithful is in mortal peril.

Many leaders of communities have known times where the community, through conflict or by the actions of a bully, devolves into the opposite of its original intent. Unfortunately, it is all too common for churches and places of worship which preach forgiveness to become unforgiving. Sometimes the message of justice becomes perverted into a message of just-us, and sometimes the boastful words overpower the quiet insistence of those trying to follow whole heartedly. It is from this experience of disillusionment that the Psalmist cries for help. In a feeling of isolation and desolation where the faithful have been replaced by the duplicitous, the powerlessness of the Psalmist on their own is overpowering.

Family Systems Theory can talk about a Karpmann Drama Triangle where people are stuck into roles as the victim, oppressor or hero. Claus Westermann noted that in many of the Psalms of Lament that Israel or the speaker find themselves in the role of the victim where the LORD becomes the liberator of the speaker or Israel from their adversaries. (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 74) With the speaker in the role of the victim in the midst of their adversaries they are reliant upon God as their deliverer from their adversaries. This is the nature of the relationship that the people of God have with their deliverer. However, the danger is that these same people can easily move into the role of the oppressor where now the LORD must stand with the oppressed ones over against them. Perhaps, this is something that the Psalmist feels is now happening among their community. That the empty words have allowed the people to deny the contingency of their existence that is based upon their living into the covenant they have with the God of Israel.

The Psalmist sees those around him denying reality and doing violence to others in that denial. They have arrogated themselves into the position of being their own gods who no one can judge. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 156) Their tongues have become the small member that boasts of great exploits, setting fire to the world around them. (See James 3: 1-12) In claiming this place they have denied the reign of God feeling free to craft their own dominions.  Yet, as so often is the case, when the powerful and the boastful feel free to create their own realities it comes at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. Whether the Psalmist can claim a spot among the alien, the widow and the orphan (the classic way that the Hebrew bible speaks of the vulnerable) or not they are aware of the way in which the law, the commandments and the ordinances of God attempt to create a society where the oppressed are cared for. Yet, as the community moves away from its groundings and devolves into a place where unpleasant truths are denied at the expense of a more convenient illusion it also becomes a place that loses its understanding of hospitality and mercy.

The Psalm rests on the confidence that God will see and God will intervene even when the immediate evidence may point in the opposite direction. In a place where vileness is exalted among humanity and the poor are despoiled and the needy groan the Psalmist sees beyond the present moment to a hopeful future where God sees and acts. The Psalms understand, like the rest of the Bible, that God acts on behalf of the powerlessness and has an ear for the cries of the poor and oppressed.  It is in the LORD’s answer, “I will now rise up” that the Psalmist trusts. The LORD has acted in the past; the LORD’s promises are true and precious. In comparison to the dross the Psalmist hears spoken around him the promises of God to them are like pure silver. As Mary can sing in Luke’s gospel the time is coming when:

He has shown the strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1: 51-55)


Living Brave Reflection 9: Learning to Pay Attention (and Making Space for Good Habits)

One of the bad habits I developed in working out is holding my breath. When you run you can’t do this, but when I lift weights or do pushups I have a bad habit of holding my breath until I need to gasp for air and then I hold it again as the bar or my body goes up and down. The proper technique would be to breathe in while you are letting the weight come down and to exhale while the weight goes up. Holding my breath may give me a temporary boost, since I’m less concerned about breathing and form, but for any type of endurance proper breathing is essential. The muscles rely upon oxygen to convert sugar into energy and when they are denied sufficient energy they begin to utilize a process called anaerobic glycolysis which is a very efficient way of transforming sugar into energy, but there is a cost. This process generates lactic acid which will eventually slow your performance and lead to cramps and other symptoms of your body telling you to slow down.

One of the bad habits I never developed, thankfully, was smoking. Smoking would be genetically a very bad decision for me, lots of history of lung related cancers in my family, but something I learned while in the military was an unexpected benefit to smokers. Smokers are typically allowed several smoke breaks throughout the day where they get to break from their work and one of the added benefits was a couple minutes of deep breathing. Deep breathing, even though they are inhaling a harmful substance, lowers the heart rate, reduces anxiety and it also probably reinforces the behavior. As a person who doesn’t drink coffee or smoke (the two acceptable reasons for breaks in most business environments) I tend to work non-stop. Yet, I know that I’m more effective when I can find times to take breaks. I know I am calmer when I take time to pay attention to things as simple as breathing.

Since 2009 (and those who are interested in the significance of 2009 can read more about that here) when I crashed emotionally and my body began to fail after years of chronic stress, I’ve become much more aware of my emotions and the signs my body gives me. Some things are the result of the wisdom and challenges of getting a little older (the body just doesn’t respond to things the way it did at 22) but it is also the gift of learning to be more mindful. Of becoming curious about the emotions I might feel, particularly the emotions in the anger and sadness spectrum, and what is going on. I often discover that when I am feeling angry or sad or frustrated there is some place where I have begun pushing through things and not taking care of myself. Working at a short term pace on a long term project. Not taking the time to do simple things like read or watch a movie that provide me a recharge as an introvert or, on the other hand, seeking out the connections that are beneficial to me and spending time with people and activities that bring me joy.

I’m wondering what it would look like to have a non-smoker, non-coffee break. Some intentional time where I force myself to take 15 minutes away from my work to pause, reflect and wonder. To breathe deeply and pay attention for a few minutes before re-engaging what I do with my usual fervor. To make more space for some of the good habits that would be beneficial to me in my life and work.

Psalm 11: Confident Faith in the Midst of Trouble

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Psalm 11

To the leader. Of David.
1 In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to the mountains;
 2 for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
 3 If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
 4 The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
 5 The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
 6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
 7 For the LORD is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

This is another Psalm where we do not know the threat that David (Psalm 11 is attributed to David) faces, yet the advice to flee like a bird to the mountains because of the strength of those opposing the speaker poetically evokes a mortal threat. Yet there is a defiance in the initial line which sets the tone for the rest of the Psalm, “In the LORD I take refuge.” The Psalmist trusts that, even in the midst of a life threatening situation, the LORD sees and will act. This Psalm, like many of the Psalms, revolves around the active move to take refuge in the LORD and to trust that the LORD will act. It means relinquishing control over one’s future and to stand in the trust that even in the midst of the speaker’s powerlessness that God can indeed act on behalf of the righteous and against the wicked.

This defiant stance, of trusting the LORD in the presence of danger, is a frequent theme of the Psalmist. For the writers of the Psalms they trust that God does see, act and judge. That God sustains the righteous and will in time punish the wicked. The author’s trust in God enables them to place themselves into the position of danger even when they may feel powerless. This poetic approach to faith that trusts in the midst of crisis has been a balm for many of the faithful across the generations. Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress’, which is inspired by Psalm 46 is an echo of this type of faith. Yet, the Psalms are poetic and not dogmatic and just because the poet is able to appeal to the LORD in the midst of their situation does not condemn a person who may flee in a different situation.

In 1527, during the early reformation at Wittenberg, a case of Bubonic plague was discovered. The students were sent home but Luther remained in the city and was busy with pastoral and practical care of the sick. Late in the year Luther wrote an open letter on ‘Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague’ where Luther can endorse the type of faith that is stated here in the Psalm, because in times of death someone must stay: doctors, nurses, preachers and others necessary to care for the afflicted. But Luther also allows that there will be those whose faith is not at this place and they should be allowed to flee and that those who are unnecessary may be acting on a natural tendency, implanted by God to flee death and save one’s life. (Luther, 1989, pp. 736-755) Luther’s caution was not to condemn those whose walk of faith allowed them to flee like a bird to the mountains nor those who for the sake of the neighbor walked into the place where death seemed to reign.

Living Brave Reflection 8: Stockpiling Stress




Sometimes your greatest strength has its shadow side. I have always been a very resilient person who is able to keep a clear head in intense and stressful situations. I have high expectations of myself in the way in which I interact with others and try very hard not to offload any emotional or situational stress I feel on them in inappropriate ways. I am very good at being a non-anxious presence and have been able to remain in a more rational space when walking through some of those anxiety filled environments. Yet, you can’t walk through an anxiety filled environment without inhaling the fumes and having the fear and the worry enter into your lungs and pass into the bloodstream. You can’t bear other people’s burdens without a way of unburdening yourself and dealing with your own stress and anxiety. You don’t engage anger or fear without the endorphins which prepare your body to fight or flee flooding through your system leaving their residue remaining in fiber of your being. Yes, there is the healing power of removing oneself from the stress and letting the body work the toxins out of its system. There is the incredible healing power of exercise, sleep, good diet and conversations with trusted friends, of being in places where you are accepted and nurtured. But if you are like me, the longer you remain in the environment the more your stockpile stress and the less attractive the very things that would bring healing appear. I am good at pushing myself to the point where my body finally begins to react to the stockpiled stress and emotions and then begins to plead its case in various ways to force me to slow down or to make changes.

Perhaps I am more aware of this after 2010 when my body reacted to years of dealing with chronic stress by triggering a number of reactions both physically and emotionally. There were a number of standard physical signs-carrying tension in my neck for example, but also others which I didn’t realize until later. During 2008-2010 I suffered a number of very painful cramps in my legs that prevented me from running for significant periods of time (one of my primary stress relief outlets) which partially were due to not replacing shoes often enough but I believe were also aided by the amount of stress I was bearing. Emotionally I began to suffer from panic attacks, had trouble sleeping and drifted into depression.

I have attempted to become better in listening to my body. Granted, I’m no longer in my twenties and my body doesn’t respond to physical and emotional demands in quite the same way but I am still a pretty resilient person. Yet, with that resilience can hide the weakness. The belief that I can continue to push past my limits or endure things that may be unhealthy or violate boundaries that I need to recharge and rejuvenate. I’ve learned that often my body is the canary in the coalmine, the indicator that once again I have been stockpiling stress. So perhaps it is time for a warehouse sale, to open the doors and clear out all the crates.