Monthly Archives: January 2017

In the Land of Trolls

Theodor Kittelsen, "The Sea Troll" (1887)

Theodor Kittelsen, “The Sea Troll” (1887)

In the Land of Trolls

We dreamed of a networked world full of bridges
Spanning the gaps between people and nations
Connectivity in a globalized world brought us closer
Enabling us to find new brothers and sisters and friends
That lived in lands we could have never visited before
The oceans and borders that separated ceased to matter
And we could share our images, our passions, our hearts desire
Sharing the parts of life we wanted others to see and admire
Never knowing that this land of connectivity built its bridges
In the land of trolls.
They sat there silent: watching, waiting, biding their time
Plotting how to ambush and overwhelm the unsuspecting
The beautiful avatars that ventured over their bridges provoked something
Within them: hatred and ugliness emerged from their gut
And many found themselves overcome by the bile and bellow
The bridges also allowed the trolls to find their own fellows
Together they could construct cathedrals of fear and congregations of hate
Defending the bridges they claimed as their own domain
Mainly working through intimidation and harassment
Yet occasionally in their obsession they use physical violence
But often the psychological scars of the encounter
Entered the blood and bone of the ambushed
In the land of trolls
So how do you deal with trolls, do you abandon the bridges?
Surrendering the dream of connectivity and the connections made
Are armies sent beneath the bridges in an attempt to root them out?
Do solitary heroes stand-alone against the onslaught of the hoard?
Or do we simply refuse to feed the trolls any longer?
Do we deny them the sustenance of our fear or the sight of our pain?
Others have attempted to act as missionaries attempting to convert
Yet, the trolls have often dined on the well-meaning priest of reconciliation
The trolls seem to like the safety and darkness of their unseen haunts
Yet, I wonder, if a troll unseen and unheard even exists at all
Or does it become one more vanquished spirit searching for a victim
Some mortal to haunt with its shadowy threats and terrifying words
Yet, perhaps if their voice has no power they might find themselves bypassed
Haunting an unused wasteland cursed to wander the wilderness
That has become the land of trolls

Exodus 1: Setting the Stage

Roman collared slaves-Marble relief from Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey), 200 CE

Roman collared slaves-Marble relief from Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey), 200 CE

 Exodus 1: 1-7 Setting the Stage

These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

The book of Genesis, the preceding book in the Bible, spends the bulk of the book with God working through a specific family, the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be God’s covenant partners and to be a blessing to all the nations. As Exodus begins we are joined to the ending of the book of Genesis where the sons of Jacob (Israel) have come down to Egypt and settled in the land of Goshen. Joseph was already in Egypt after being sold into slavery and rising to being second in command of all Egypt and Jacob and his remaining sons come to Egypt seeking relief from a severe famine throughout the land. Throughout the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph God has continued to provide for them in unexpected ways. Yet, now we have left the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the original sons of Israel behind as that generation passes away.

One of the struggles of many of the stories of Genesis was the struggle against barrenness. Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel all struggle with infertility and these families of the promise struggle with the command in the first creation narrative to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1. 28). At the end of Genesis and here at the beginning of Exodus there has been a slow increase from the original two of Sarah and Abraham to now a household of seventy born to Jacob. Yet now the increase becomes exceedingly fruitful, they begin to become numerous and this combined with a historical amnesia in the land of Egypt sets the stage for the initial crisis of Exodus and the transition from the people’s lives in Egypt to their journey to the promised land.

Exodus 1: 8-14 Historical Amnesia and the Politics of Fear and Oppression

 8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The initial reception in Egypt for the family of Israel was positive and as the book of Deuteronomy can remind the people: “You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.” (Deuteronomy 23: 7) Yet, as time passes a sense of historical amnesia sets in. A new king, an unnamed king, arises in the land of Egypt. He may rule the superpower of the day but within this book that will become the ‘West’s meta-narrative of hope’ (Sacks, 2010, p. 1) his name remains unspoken and forgotten. He will not be linked to any of the massive construction projects of one of the Egyptian dynasties or to the culture of the land. This nameless ruler will be only remembered for the way in which the ruler of the most powerful empire of that age feared a subset of those in his land.

Until this point the Israelites were a family, they may have grown larger, but here it is the unnamed ruler who for the first time designates them as a unique people. Somehow the Israelites are distinct, they are unlike the people of the rest of the nation and that distinction gives rise to a politics of oppression. Ultimately, as Rabbi Sacks can remind us, “Pharaoh is driven by political motives, not hate.” (Sacks, 2010, p. 4) Throughout the book of Exodus the people of Egypt will be presented as one option, even a shrewd option for a type of society that can capitalize on the fear and distinction of a people to transform them from neighbors into forced laborers. Fear provides the opportunity to not only discriminate against a people but to build a civilization on their broken backs. The people of Israel will be challenged to learn a different way of organizing their lives rather than the manner of the Pharaohs of Egypt or the kings of the nations that surround them. Yet, the politics of fear and oppression continue to be used in our time to set one group of people against another and to transform neighbors into the ones to be feared.

The initial strategy to remove the threat of the Israelites through oppression fails because the more they were oppressed the more they multiplied. While the policy may have the desired effect in the near term by allowing the Egyptians to have a forced labor pool to build the monuments and houses of the empire it continues to create a fear and a dependence upon the very people they wish to eliminate. The oppression and violence has not yet reached its peak and yet it has already begun to change the oppressor. To maintain this separation between Egyptian and Israelite they become ruthless. Fear and oppression has changed them. Their placing of the projects of the empire above the needs of their neighbor changes their culture. Hospitality is replaced with brutality and yet the Israelites endure and continue to multiply even under the heavy burden of the empire’s imposed service.

Exodus 1: 15-22 The Disobedience of Women

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

This is the first of six stories in the book of Exodus of outstanding moral courage and they are all about women, two (Pharaoh’s daughter and Zipporah) are not Israelites and here with Shiphrah and Puah they may not be Israelites as well. (Sacks, 2010, p. 9) We don’t know whether these two women are simply midwives that are working with the Hebrew women or whether they are themselves Hebrews but they are named while the king of Egypt remains anonymous. They become examples of how women, who would not have a place within the power structures of men, are able to subvert the command of the king.

The king of Egypt asks these women to commit a crime against humanity. Perhaps the Hebrews are no longer valued as humans any longer by Pharaoh and they become a subhuman beast of burden where the master can decide upon their life and death. Yet, for these women it is not only a crime against humanity but also a crime against the LORD of the Hebrew women who keeps granting them the fertility to bring forth children. The Pharaoh has overstepped the line with these two servants and they work in their own way to find a way to allow life to occur when death has been ordered. Shiphrah and Puah have a calling, whether through morality or through faith, to not carry out this order to kill infants. When they are summoned they respond with a lie and it is a lie which also taunts the strength of the Egyptians. Hebrew women are able to deliver without a midwife present, they are much more robust than the more fragile Egyptian women who need to wait upon the ministering of the midwives. This is one of those times where God seems to delight in the craftiness of the servant. The midwives, who may have been in their role because they have no families of their own, are seen and they too are granted fertility and families. They also now have a place with the Hebrews and they become the first to resist the murderous impulses of the empire. Pharaoh, deciding that these women will not do his work for him now extends the murderous command to all his people. Now the murder of Israelites infant boys becomes the work of the nation and doubtless there will be those who are willing to embrace the politics of fear and division and be a part of the ordered purge. Yet, it is from within the oppression of the empire that something new will happen, that the people who were slaves to Pharaoh will be claimed as the first-born children by the God who is not bound to any place or nation but is instead the creator of the heaven and the earth.

Transitioning Into Exodus

Rembrandt, Moses with the Ten Commandments

Rembrandt, Moses with the Ten Commandments

When I started the biblical reflections portion of this blog almost four years ago, I didn’t realize how much I would learn and how much it would shape my ministry. Many Christians don’t know how to approach the Hebrew Scriptures that many call the Old Testament, and as much as I love the gospels and the letters of Paul I am learning how to hear those writings much more fully as I become more and more familiar with the Psalms, Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, Esther and Haggai. I am understanding more what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he said,

I notice more and more how much I am thinking and perceiving things in line with the Old Testament; thus in recent months I have been reading much more the Old than the New Testament. Only when one knows the name of God may not be uttered may one sometimes speak the name of Jesus Christ. Only when one loves life and the earth so much that with it everything seems lost and at its end may one believe in the resurrection of the dead and a new world. Only when one accepts the law of God as binding for oneself may one perhaps sometimes speak of grace. And only when the wrath and vengeance of God against God’s enemies are allowed to stand can something of forgiveness and love of enemies touch our hearts. Whoever wishes to be and perceive too quickly and too directly in New Testament ways is to my mind no Christian. We have already, discussed this a few times, and every day confirms for me that it is right. One can and must not speak the ultimate word prior to the penultimate. We are living in the penultimate and believe the ultimate. (DBW 8: 213)

As I have wrestled with some difficult pieces of the Bible it has caused me to think about ethics, faith, our current world and so much more. For me this is the more challenging way but it has also been incredibly rewarding. Finishing Psalms 21-30 as a transition between books now I stand ready to begin another large piece. Next will be the book of Exodus, the second of the Pentateuch that I have approached. It is a book that I am more familiar with than I was with Jeremiah or Deuteronomy when I began and it is more of a narrative than any of the books I have done previously. I have two trustworthy companions for the journey. Since this is one of the central books of the Torah and the defining drama of the Jewish people I am delighted to have Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’, Covenant and Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible as he reads through Exodus: The Book of Redemption as one of my primary dialogue partners. I will also be taking along Carol Meyers commentary on Exodus from the New Cambridge Bible Commentary Series. I have other resources that I have read in the past or that are on my shelf that may also be a part of this journey. With the forty chapters of Exodus the hope is to make the journey in approximately forty weeks, but as journeys go there are often unforeseen stops along the way. I am looking forward to this next exploration as I reenter the journey of the people of Israel from Egypt into the wilderness, from slavery into becoming the people of God and seeing how their journey and faith continue to shape and inform my own.

Psalm 30- The Life of Praise

Mosaic Mural of Pentecost by Manuel Perez Paredes in Nuestro Senor del Veneno Temple, Mexico City

Mosaic Mural of Pentecost by Manuel Perez Paredes in Nuestro Senor del Veneno Temple, Mexico City

Psalm 30

<A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.>
 1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
 2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
 3 O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
 4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
 5 For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
 6 As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
 7 By your favor, O LORD, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
 8 To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication:
 9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
 10 Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
 11 You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
 12 so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

This is a Psalm of praise but as Rolf Jacobson also can state it is a Psalm about praise. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 298) Psalm thirty with its poetic polarities looks at what a life of praise might look like and how one’s experience of God’s deliverance can lead to a life where one’s soul can praise and not be silent. The Psalm also moves beyond the individual Psalmists praise to the community’s experience of the deliverance of God and the attribution of the Psalm as a song at the dedication of the temple can let us wonder how the words originally written by one speaker now gets echoed to the faithful ones through their testimony and becomes reflective of a communal faith at the dedication of a place of worship. Praise leads the person not to remain silent, to proclaim their life before the gathered community and ultimately to dedicate a place where God’s name can be praised.

The superscription which lists the Psalm as being used in the dedication of a temple has two possibilities in ancient Israelite and Jewish writings: the dedication of the second temple in 515 BCE (as described in Ezra 6) or the rededication of the temple after the Maccabean revolt in 165 BCE after it had been defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes (which Hanukah and the books of Maccabees talk about). (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 289) In either case the community has come out of a time where the LORD appeared to hide his face and remove the protection from the people and yet ultimately the people stand in the position of being renewed and redeemed from either captivity or persecution. In using these words in the position of praising God with the dedication of a new (or renewed) temple the people take the experience of the Psalmist and the words of praise and relate them to the experience of the Jewish community as they emerge from the shadow of oppression and the threat of death.

The Psalm itself bursts with praise from the writer’s experience of redemption. From the very beginning the poet show how their LORD saved them from the point of death. The language is full of images reflecting a struggle for life against the possibility of death. Being drawn up, brought up from Sheol, having one’s life restored from among those who have gone down to the Pit: these are all ways of representing the near-death experience that the Psalmist trusts that God has redeemed them from. So, the Psalmist feels compelled not only to tell and praise but to command others to praise and give thanks as well. In sharing their experience and song they begin to teach the community how to sing praises to the LORD and to give thanks to his holy name.

In the center of the psalm is the testimony of a life that has forgotten praise and which became comfortable in its complacency. The Psalmist, like many in our own time, made security their idol and they began to trust in their own strength rather than the LORD who had provided for them. They began to believe that they would never be moved. Yet, this is where the LORD hides the protecting and benevolent face of God. To many people who believe God only brings prosperity and blessing this may indeed feel like what Martin Luther would call ‘the alien work of God’: the actions of condemnation, judgment or punishment. Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer could say in a 1944 letter to Eberhard Bethge,

Thus our coming of age leads us to a truer recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as those who manage their lives without God. The same God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15: 34!) (DBW 8:479)

The Psalmist describes the descent into the Godforsaken place that leads them to pleading for life. The Psalms come from a time before the Jewish people would even begin thinking of a resurrection and so the ending of life is the ending of praise. Death silences the songs of the faithful but even at the edge of the abyss the faithful can cry out. They know that God’s anger will pass, that joy will come in the morning. That God can and will act to bring life out of death, hope out of despair, turn mourning into dancing and brokenness into healing.

So, the Psalmist and the community that can echo these words learn to praise and not be silent. They participate in a faith in a redeeming God who delivers the faithful ones in their time of trouble. Having participated in the renewal of life after the brush with death, persecution or destruction they learn that it is because of the LORD that they shall never be moved. As St. Paul could echo this idea in a later time, talking to the early followers of Jesus, ‘that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 8.38f.) And as the faithful gather together in the places dedicated to praising and giving thanks to God forever as the old song says, “How can they keep from singing.”


Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article 1 Section 9-10 Limiting the Powers of Congress and the Individual States

Image of the U.S. Constitution from

Image of the U.S. Constitution from

These final two sections limit both the powers of the congress in passing laws as well as the powers of individual states as they construct their state constitution and legal systems.

Section 9:

The first clause of section 9 is now obsolete but it prevented the congress from interfering with the slave trade until 1808 but did allow for the taxation of the slave trade. The constitution is not a perfect document nor were the founders perfect. This is one of the places where we see the necessity of being able to amend the constitution.

The writ of habeas corpus prevents unlawful detention or imprisonment except in cases of rebellion or invasion.  President George W. Bush’s administration attempted to argue that this provision allowed for the detainees at Guantanamo Bay outside the jurisdiction of habeas corpus but the Supreme Court overturned this action in the case of Boumediene vs. Bush.

The congress cannot pass a bill of attainder where a person or group can be declared guilty of some crime and punished without a trial.

The congress cannot establish a uniform tax on individuals based only on their count within the census, taxes can be based upon income and other factors but there is no tax merely for being within the United States.

No tax can be passed on commerce between states.

No preference shall be given to imports entering in one state’s ports over another’s and vessels traveling from one state to another must not be made to pay duties or tariffs to another.

No money may be withdrawn from the treasury except through the sequence of appropriations and laws and an accounting of the receipts and expenditures of the U.S. government must be published.

No title or nobility shall be granted by the United States and no person in office shall accept any gift, salary, office or title from a foreign government without the consent of congress.

Section 10: Limiting the Power of Individual States

States may not:

– enter into treaties, alliances or confederations

-print their own coin

– pass any bill of attainder (see section 9)

-pass any law that makes something that was legal when it occurred punished as illegal after a new law has been passed

-grant any titles of nobility

-impose duties on imports or exports (except to provide for the execution of the state’s inspection laws)

-Lay a duty of tonnage (a fee for being able to use a port)

-keep troops or ships of war

– Enter into agreements or compacts with other states or foreign powers or engage in war.


The Irrational Pieces of Our Identity: A Reflection on the Departure of the San Diego Chargers


Today I’m heartbroken. It isn’t for any particularly rational reason. Others today are worrying that they may lose their health coverage as congress continues its movement to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare to its foes). Some are worried about the approval hearings for many of the Trump cabinet picks who if approved may prove threatening to their civil rights. Both of those are rational fears that some of my friends have today. Yet, today my heartbreak comes from that irrational part of my identity that comes from that almost tribal affiliation that a person has with a sports team. For those who enjoy sports it can be an uplifting and heartbreaking drama as you root for a team, a place, individual players and ultimately you give something of yourself to them. My affiliation has been irrational from the beginning. Even though I have never lived in San Diego, have only been in their stadium once and have only visited the city a couple of times I have been a San Diego Chargers fan for decades. How did a person who grew up in Texas and who has never lived on the West Coast end up rooting for a California team? I’ve told the story to many people, and I believe it is true, that I really think that sometime in my preteen or teenage years I decided I liked the uniform. Growing up in Texas in the 80s, and now living in Frisco, Texas where the Dallas Cowboys have their training facility I should, by all rights, be a Dallas Cowboys fan but somehow through living in Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and once again in Texas that loyalty has stuck. I have rooted for individual players like LaDainian Tomlison or Philip Rivers. I have wanted to like their coaches even though by the end of both Norv Turner and Mike McCoy’s tenures I was beginning to lose patience. I rooted for them to get the new stadium that someday I dreamed of being able to finally afford a trip to San Diego and tickets to a game to enjoy. Even though I have multiple jerseys, many shirts and hats and have paid to have coverage of their games here I know that I am not the type of fan that finances NFL teams anymore. Yet, even still, some part of my irrational identity was and to some level still is invested in them.

The decision to move the San Diego Chargers away from the city of San Diego after 56 years must have been a difficult one and I can at some detached level understand the frustration the team’s ownership has felt for the last several years attempting to find a way to build a stadium that is comparable to the other stadiums that are either built or being built across the NFL, not to mention the large stadiums built for college teams. I do believe that part of the appeal for me with the Chargers was San Diego and not only the beautiful location of the city and the tourist orientation of the city but also the similarities between it and my city I grew up in, San Antonio. Both are military cities, San Antonio is an Air Force/Army city while San Diego is Navy/Marine Corps, both have tourism as primary industries and both were large enough to support a professional team and yet still small enough to feel smaller than the Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and even the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex where I currently live. I like rooting for the smaller market team, it felt a little like rooting for the underdog. I suppose having lived on the opposite side of Louisiana from New Orleans I could’ve picked up rooting for the Saints in the early 90s, or living in southern Wisconsin in 2002-03 I could’ve picked up rooting for the Packers. I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of a new team arriving since I lived in Oklahoma City when the Thunder arrived and they became one of the teams I rooted for and at times I would feel torn as they played the Spurs which I grew up rooting for.

What comes next for this unsettled irrational piece of my identity? At this point I don’t know. Perhaps as this year unfolds it will become clearer. Will I become the fan of the LA Chargers that I have been of the San Diego Chargers or will I migrate to some other team and some other group of players? I enjoy the game and the strategy of football and the level of play that is a part of the professional game so I doubt I’ll stop watching all together. But there is a sense of loss today. I can only imagine what those who live in San Diego and who regularly attended the games, even over the last couple dismal seasons, must feel.

Dan Fouts, the hall of fame San Diego quarterback said today that “the San Diego Chargers are dead” and today that is what it feels like. I was fortunate to have them going through one of their great stretches in a challenging time in my personal life and my career and I have a lot of memories of coming home and looking forward to that three to four hours where I could plug into their game with thousands of other fans and root for them in a time where they dominated the AFC West. Even the past two years with all the injuries and inconsistencies I have doggedly seen the potential in this team which seemed to fight hard each game, even when they seemed to find uncanny ways to lose in the end. I’m not going to go out and throw away my Chargers gear, at least not at this point but I am frustrated. I know that at the end of the year I intentionally did not buy any new jerseys or hats or gear knowing that this might happen. Like many in the San Diego Chargers tribe there is a sense of being heartbroken, betrayal and grief. Ultimately life will go on, but as with all grief it changes things.

Psalm 29- The Thundering Voice of God

Supercell Thunderstorm over Chaparral, New Mexico on April 3, 2004

Supercell Thunderstorm over Chaparral, New Mexico on April 3, 2004

Psalm 29

<A Psalm of David.>
 1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
 3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
 4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
 5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
 7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
 8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
 9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
 10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
 11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
What language do we use to praise God and where does it come from? I know for many contemporary Christians there is a fear of using the secular language or language that may come from a mythological or another religion’s background. Yet, here is Psalm 29 which uses the language that the Canaanites used to talk about their god Baal and repurposes that praise in a way to explicitly and repetitively talk about the LORD. In our desire to ascribe to the LORD glory and strength what words, what language and what images shall we use? How do the metaphors capture some piece of what the LORD’s strength and power is? One of the gifts of the Psalms is the way in which it stretches and challenges the ways in which we can poetically allow ourselves to talk about God.

The metaphorical exploration of the power of God’s voice as a thunderstorm is a potent image on its own. The powerful image also takes on a polemical context when paired in a Canaanite environment when their primary god Baal is a storm god who battle the chaotic sea (Yam). In a bold move the poet who puts these words on paper takes the primary image of strength of the god of the surrounding nation and usurps the image to talk about the voice of the LORD. All the other heavenly beings are summoned from the beginning to honor the LORD and to assume their proper subservient positions. The unimaginable power of the mighty storm which can strip the forests are or which can break the mighty cedars of Lebanon is now one attribute of the LORD’s strength.

To use the language of the surrounding world as a part of the language we use to praise God is necessary and yet like all metaphors it has its limits. The Psalms never pretend to be a systematic theology but rather a window into the ways in which God has been experienced. The metaphors can capture our imaginations as ways, as in this Psalm, to give praise to God. In a Psalm where the voice of the LORD is emphasized seven times the only word spoken is reserved for those in the temple. We, like those in the temple, use our own limited words to try to proclaim, “Glory!” The bible wants to use the language it can muster to bring honor and praise to the LORD, and if it means redirecting language which the people of the LORD believed was misused to worship other gods then they would repurpose and recast those words to bring honor and praise to their God. To echo another poet quoted by Paul in Philippians they wanted to see that time when “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2. 10)

Psalm 29 celebrates the power of the LORD with all its destructive might but ultimately that power is wielded so that the people may be at peace. As in Psalm 46 where the bows are broken and spears are shattered and shields burned to make wars cease, so here the incredible powerful voice of the LORD is wielded to bring the people peace. As Rolf Jacobson can state, “God’s strength quells the warring madness of the children of Adam and Eve. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 286) Until the days to come that the prophet Isaiah could dream of when swords are turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2.4) and where the voice of the LORD blesses the people with peace and all the nations stream to the house of the LORD we live in the expectation for the time when the voice of the LORD’s immense power thunders across our world, strengthens the people, blesses us with peace and all can proclaim, “Glory!”

Understanding the Constitution of the United States: Article 1, Section 8: The Powers of the Congress

Image of the U.S. Constitution from

Image of the U.S. Constitution from

Section 8: Powers of the Legislative Branch

People often blame the President of the United States for the national debt, and while there are some places where the executive branch does influence and in some cases (war for example) cause spending it is the legislative branch that is responsible for taxation, borrowing money and establishing the budget. The first several of the enumerated powers of the legislative branch deal explicitly with this:

The congress is to:

-To Collect Taxes, duties, imposts and excises to provide income for the federal government

-To borrow money on the credit of the United States

-To regulate commerce with foreign nations and internally

The congress establishes the tax code, sets any fees and duties for goods imported into the country as well as fees for the use of federal resources. Congress is responsible for borrowing money, and this has been an issue recently when the congress has shut down the government by refusing to borrow money or to pass a budget. When these actions have downgraded the credit rating of the U.S. government it also is the congress’ responsibility. Congress is responsible for trade within the United States and across the borders and the states are heavily limited in their ability to impact interstate or international trade in ways that would be an impediment for other states (see section 10).

The next enumerated power deals with how a person becomes a citizen of the United States. The executive branch can, for example, make a case for comprehensive immigration reform but ultimately it is the House of Representatives and Senate who is empowered to set the rules for how a person can legally become a citizen. The system as we have it today, with all of its flaws, is a result of the decisions of the legislative branch.

The next set of enumerated powers deals with the currency of the United States which also falls under the responsibilities of the congress. As enumerated in the constitution:

-The congress establishes laws on the subject of bankruptcies

-The congress has the power to coin money, or to determine how much money is printed in the United States and the value of that currency as well as establishing the standards for weights and measurements used in trade and commerce

-The congress is also responsible for protecting the integrity of the currency of the U.S. by providing for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and coin of the U.S.

Bankruptcy came into the United States system from its precursor in the English code of law, although as it developed in the United States it moved from being a quasi-criminal act to being a system to allow businesses and individuals to focus on repaying the debts after suffering a heavy loss. U.S. bankruptcy code has been amended several times, most recently with the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. The congress also determines how much money the U.S. Mint will print and what the value of that currency is. The value of U.S. currency is based upon the trust of the people for the government, not on any gold or silver or other standard. Even without a gold standard the U.S. currency has traditionally been viewed as a safe commodity and a standard currency for trade throughout the world. The congress also is responsible for ensuring that the weights and measures used for trade throughout the country are consistent so that a bushel in Texas is the same as a bushel in Wisconsin for example. Finally they are responsible for ensuring that the currency of the United States is not counterfeited. This is done in multiple ways, through the elaborate design of U.S. currency and through law enforcement agencies like the Secret Service.

The next two enumerated powers also are related to the promoting commerce, communications and providing a place where intellectual property is protected

-They are responsible for establishing the postal system and the roads that the postal system will use.

-They are to promote the progress of science and the arts by providing a trademark and copyright system to protect the investment of scientists and artists in their writings and discoveries.

In creating a postal system and a network of roads for inexpensive communication helped to facilitate the nations expansion westward. The establishment of trademark and copyright law also was instrumental in the ability of intellectual property to be protected. Trademark law, mainly defined under the Lanham act, prevented the use of source-identifying mark by another to utilize that brand’s name or popularity. For example, if you purchase a pair of shoes with the Nike swoosh on it you are anticipating that it was designed, manufactured and marketed by Nike and is not an imitation. Copyright law protects the intellectual property and is defined in the Copyright act of 1976.

-They constitute tribunals (courts) lower than the supreme court. In recent years this has become an area of struggle between the two parties and between the executive branch. Congress has frequently held lower courts vacant rather than hold hearings on candidates that the executive branch recommended that they didn’t want to act upon. Yet, the constitution of the lower courts is an important part of the ideal of establishing justice and insuring domestic tranquility as outlined in the preamble of the constitution.

Most of the remaining enumerated powers relate to providing for the common defence:

-They define and punish piracy and felonies committed at sea

-They have the power to declare war, approve treaties and penalties after a war and establish the rules concerning prisoners captured in war

-They provide for the funding of the U.S. military (both Army and Navy are established in the constitution)

-They also create the laws that the military forces operate under (the Uniform Code of Military Justice)

-They also provide for the calling forth of a militia (the original military of the United States had a very small professional army/navy very different than the U.S. Military’s current structure but this is where the National Guard/Reserve components of the military come from). The congress is also responsible for organizing, equipping and disciplining the militia.

-They are responsible for setting aside (with the cooperation of the states) federal properties to be used as military installations, dock yards, and other needed buildings.

The final enumerated power was included to make space for unforeseen legislation that the congress would need to enact. It was a controversial addition to the constitution but ultimately the necessary and proper clause, as it is known, because some, like Patrick Henry, believed it would lead to limitless appropriation of power by the federal government, but it was included over these arguments giving congress the power to make any laws which are necessary for the execution of the above powers.

Psalm 28- Can You Hear Me Lord?

Can You Hear Me by

Can You Hear Me by

Psalm 28

<Of David.>
 1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
 2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
 3 Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts.
 4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
 5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.
 6 Blessed be the LORD, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
 7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
 8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
 9 O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.
There is an intensity and beauty to this Psalm in its movement from crying to be heard to blessing the LORD who has heard. We can never enter the original Psalmist’s world and know who their enemies are or what is the crisis they are experiencing or how long they cry before they know that the LORD hears and responds, and yet we have their words which can echo our own crises and cries. The life of faith can inhabit this wide space between the desperate cry and the confident trust of one who has been answered. Faith does not exempt the faithful one from these times of crisis, but it does give the faithful petitioner a Faithful One who they trust will hear and answer their calls.

The intensity of the petitioner’s prayer is carried by the verbs focused on hearing: “I call, do not refuse to hear (literally do not be deaf), if you are silent” and the additional contrast between the LORD’s role as the petitioner’s rock and their destination if their rock proves untrustworthy, the pit. The psalmist cries out to the LORD, their rock, because the LORD is the only one who can deliver them. This cry is both an individual cry for help but also has the connotation of worship with lifting up hands toward the sanctuary. The Psalm doesn’t bargain with God but instead attempts to lift up the desperate reality that the Psalmist finds themselves within. If God does not rescue them from the wicked their life will end. The words of the Psalm 28 point to a life or death reality and wait upon the LORD for deliverance.

In contrast to the words of the Psalmist are the words of the wicked who speak peace while plotting mischief. The wicked often masquerade as the righteous and yet the Psalmist can point to the “fundamental disjunction between words, intentions and deeds.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 276) The wicked here are portrayed as those who do not ‘regard the work of the LORD,’ who seem to easily inhabit that space of God’s perceived silence with their own certainty that their words will go unpunished. They fill the pause in God’s perceived works with their own evil works and while the Psalmist wants the LORD to repay the evildoers for their works he also wants to ensure that he is not swept away along with them. Do not mistake my words for those of the evildoers who oppress me, do not mistake my work for their work or my deeds for their deeds. The work of the wicked is contrasted with the work of the LORD and the trust is that their disregard for the LORD’s working will result in their own destruction.

The space between verse five and six, the space between the LORD will break them down and blessed be the LORD who has heard is unknown. During that time the one praying holds onto the promise of the LORD’s hearing and the remembrance of the way the LORD has acted for the faithful ones in the past. Yet, the Psalm takes us across the unknown span of time to the resolution where God has acted, where the Psalmist can rest because God has provided them safety and strength, God did hear and act and save. It is this space where the Psalmist can utter the words of praise for the LORD who is faithful to the promises that were made. Now the Psalm moves beyond the individual to the community that calls upon God for their inheritance as well as guidance. The LORD is called upon to be their shepherd (which also has royal/kingly connotations in the Hebrew Bible) and to watch over and lead them forever. Perhaps, like in Psalm 23, the people will again find themselves in the darkest valley needing to cry out for the LORD to hear and rescue them again and then once again the intensity of the beginning of this Psalm may be a part of the movement again to that time when the LORD has heard and acted.