Psalm 48 God and Zion

Panorama of the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives by Bienchido shared under Creative Commons 4.0

 Psalm 48

<A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites.>
1 Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God. His holy mountain,
2 beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
3 Within its citadels God has shown himself a sure defense.
4 Then the kings assembled, they came on together.
5 As soon as they saw it, they were astounded; they were in panic, they took to flight;
6 trembling took hold of them there, pains as of a woman in labor,
7 as when an east wind shatters the ships of Tarshish.
8 As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes forever. Selah
9 We ponder your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.
10 Your name, O God, like your praise, reaches to the ends of the earth. Your right hand is filled with victory.
11 Let Mount Zion be glad, let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments.
12 Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers,
13 consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation
14 that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will be our guide forever.

In the previous two psalms we have celebrated God as our refuge (Psalm 46) and God as King (Psalm 47) and now we see God’s Kingship occupying a specific place of refuge: the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The city of Jerusalem and the temple were two central signs of God’s promised protection and presence. Although I can understand the remark of Walter Bruggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr. that the beginning and ending of the psalm in their symmetry and structure of, “nearly equating the God of the temple with the beauty and symmetry of it.” (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 224) I tend to view the message of the psalm in a more positive light appreciating the presence of God in a holy space. There is always a danger of identifying a structure or item designated for God’s worship and glory becoming an idol in the mind of the worshipper. Yet, we do seek places where God’s presence can be felt amid a world where God’s presence may be harder to identify and God’s refuge in a world that can feel fraught with dangers. The city, the mountain and the temple should all be spaces where the LORD is praised. At its best the beauty and security of the temple and city create a little piece of heaven on earth where God’s presence seems closer. Religious buildings, from the humblest to the most elaborate, attempt to create a safe and holy place for God’s people to come together and where God’s presence is felt and communicated.

Jerusalem as city is merely stone, wood, cloth and metal inhabited by the people who dwell in and around it. Yet, in the minds of the faithful it becomes something far greater. As J. Clinton McCann, Jr. can state, “Jerusalem is important because it is God’s place; thus it can serve as a witness to God’s character.” (NIB IV: 821) It becomes a place of hope and aspiration where in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

In the days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Isaiah 2: 2

Nancy deClaissé-Walford points to how the psalm appropriates the language of the Canaanites that was used to worship Baal. God ss the one who ascends the mountain in the north instead of Baal, Zion replaces Zaphon as the place of sanctuary and the place from which the God of Israel reigns as King over all other gods and nations. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 435) Like Psalm 29, the people transformed the language of the surrounding culture to give worship and praise to the LORD of hosts. This serves both a polemical function, the LORD is God and King instead of Baal, but also reflects the process of trying to come up with language that can be used to talk about God and the willingness of the Jewish people to repurpose imagery that seemed appropriate for their LORD.

In contrast to the hope in Isaiah 2 where the nations stream to Zion seeking teaching and wisdom, we see the kings of the earth assembling to assault Jerusalem. Yet, like Psalm 2: 1-6, the conspiring of the kings of the nations only exposes their weakness. It is possible that Psalm 48 references the failed siege of King Sennacherib of Assyria in 701 B.C.E. (2 Kings 18-19) but the psalm may be independent of this experience of liberation in the memory of the Jewish people. The kings who sought to conquer in strength flee in panic and trembling. Kings who are pictured as masculine symbols of conquest are transformed in the psalm to women in childbirth, an image in the ancient world that was the opposite of strength. Although I would disagree with the use of a woman in childbirth as an image of weakness it was a common image in the ancient world because of the intense pain and the high risk of death for women during childbirth in the ancient world. Devastating winds in ancient Israel were east winds. In Exodus 14:21 it was an east wind which drove back the Red Sea and in Jeremiah 18:17 God promise to scatter Israel before their enemy “Like the wind from the east.”

The reality of God as the refuge for the people of Zion moves from being something handed down from previous generations to the experienced reality of the city of Zion. Once they had heard of God’s steadfast love, victory and judgements but now they can rejoice because they have experienced these things. The threat from the other nations has passed and they can walk around an examine both the physical walls and barriers that surround the city but also reflect upon the God who is the true refuge for the faithful people. They will now have their own experience of God’s faithfulness to share with future generations for their God will endure forever and ever.

For those of us who hear the words of this psalm in our own time we may wonder where we go to experience the presence and protection of God? What are times where we experienced God’s power so that we could speak of our own experience of God rather than the experience of our ancestors? What language do we use to talk about God and how has it changed from the language our parents or grandparents used? What places do we consider sacred or holy and why do we consider them to be sacred?

Advertisements
Posted in Psalms | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide

Session 2: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide

This is the second part of a seven-part series on faith in a digital age, the first session was on advertising on a digital age. And the outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: Advent of the internet and a connected age
Week four: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week five: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week six: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week seven: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

I remember in the 1970s and 1980s when I was growing up the promise that technology would enable us to work fewer hours and spend more time at home with people doing what we enjoyed. One of the cartoons of that age, the Jetsons, the father only worked a couple of hours at a very leisurely pace and then came home and spent almost all of his time with his family. The reality is that people are not working fewer hours, they are working more hours than previously. The quantity and quality of work an individual person can produce has increased dramatically due to technology but now we are expected to do more work with fewer people. We do less physical work than we did a generation ago but our time at the office or engaged with work related items has increased dramatically.

Email starts out as a tool in the business, academic and military. Originally it took a dedicated network of terminals connected to a larger computer and I remember at Texas A&M when I was a student in the early 1990s logging in on a ‘dumb terminal’ to check my email for assignments from class. Email was much less convenient but it was also limited to devices connected into the main server and so your email for work stayed at work. Email would soon evolve to become far more connected and capable and this would create both new possibilities and new challenges.

One of the benefits of email is it is free. Now understand it is free because someone else, either the office or school we are associated with or advertisers have paid for the servers and infrastructure required to make the email possible. Yet, it is free which, unless you are the postal service and have seen electronic communication eat into the volume you deliver, is a good thing. Email is also able to carry immense amounts of information. For example, my congregation sends out a weekly email to the congregation which includes documents, links as well as highlights of events occurring each week.

One of the realities of email is that we get overwhelmed with information. Most people can relate to the experience of opening your email account and checking many of the emails to delete even before you open them. We are exposed to a lot of information and it becomes overwhelming and so we have to learn how to filter what is vital, what is important and what is not important. We have always sorted, even before email we would quickly sort our postal mail and determine what was trash and what was worth opening. Yet, even once we open an email, we quickly see what we think may be important and one of the realities is that information often gets missed. For example, the synod (the higher body over the churches of my denomination in the North Texas-North Louisiana region) sends out a weekly email update which includes events occurring in the region and if something is not in the first several events there is a strong possibility that I may have stopped reading at that point. We have become so overwhelmed with information that we have to find ways to limit so that we can focus on what we believe are the important things.

In any technology that communicates by text one of the things to understand is we do not have a number of the physical clues from voice and body language that we use to insert the emotion accurately into a message. Most of the information we take in when we speak to another person is non-verbal and so it is easy with text-based communication to misinterpret the emotion of the sender. For example, let’s assume that I was in an accident prior to arriving at the office and the first email I read I assume that the author is yelling at me. Now the way the email is worded may lead to this interpretation but it may also be about my own shame or anger at being in an accident. I may transfer my anger with the person I had an accident with to the sender or if I am ashamed of being in the accident, I may feel that I deserve to be yelled at. But these may have nothing to do with the intent of the sender, they are things I have read into the text message.

One of the other things it is easy to do with email is to send a message to more people than you intend or the wrong person. Many people can relate to times where they intended to forward a message and replied instead or they wanted to reply to an individual and they unintentionally hit the reply all response on the message.

People could reach out for work related things by phone long before email, but email was really the first area where we see an increasing tendency to take work home with us. We became available to people from the office, once email was connected via the internet, twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. I know many people will take their email with them on vacation and respond to it, or they may attempt to respond to email in the evening or during a meal. This can become an unhealthy dynamic for us as individuals and for our relationships.

Email was one of the first areas where we saw the advent of digital multi-tasking. Especially with the advent of push notification we see email constantly interrupting our day. So, most people who have outlook or another email device on their computer and phone will receive a pop-up whenever an email comes in and our eyes are immediately drawn to it and we make a decision whether to open the email or allow it to sit until a later point. Yet, even the reality of looking at the pop-up and making a quick decision has taken us away from the work we are doing and those who study efficiency have seen a drop in efficiency from these frequent interruptions. It takes our mind time to switch between tasks and to engage what is being asked of it and then to re-engage what we were working on initially. Multi-tasking doesn’t make us more productive or efficient, it actually is a productivity killer. It is like when your computer has multiple tasks open the available memory and processing capability it has is reduced for any one task so it runs slower. Computers have evolved quickly to be able to increase their processing capacity but the human brain cannot evolve in the same way. We simply were not made for a world of continual interruption.

In our culture we seem to value being busy. I’m guilty of answering the question, “how are you doing?” with the word busy and sometimes we wear our constant activity as a badge of honor. ‘I’m really important because I am always busy.’ Yet, I think we need to talk about the reality that people use being busy the same way they use drugs and alcohol—as a numbing device. If I am busy doing something that has meaning to my life and my relationships that a good thing, but if I am busy so that I don’t have to think about the brokenness in my life or my relationships or so that I can avoid difficult conversations and feelings then we are using our activity to keep us numbed.

One of the other things that can happen with all of these technologies is if we don’t set our own healthy boundaries, we will allow the person with the least healthy boundaries to determine how much of our time they can demand. The person who believes they need verification from you or your attention to validate their importance can take time away from the people in your life who truly are important to you or the things in life that give you value and meaning. I will talk about some of my own values below but I think it is a very healthy thing to reflect on how we use any technology and when are the times we feel like it is impacting our life, health and relationships in a negative way.

Is checking an email a bad thing? No, but sometimes the way it dominates our life can be. I know there are times when I spend multiple hours responding to emails after a weekend and that is time that is taken away from being present with other people, doing the work I need to get done on a weekly basis and doing the creative work that brings life and joy to my life. One of the questions to ask is, “Is this a productive use of my time.” Frequently it can be, but it will not always be. If your answer to the question of the use of time being productive is frequently no, then it may be time to look at establishing some boundaries and thinking how you might limit the amount of time you spend with email or any other item.

So, as a pastor and I want to help us think through this from a faith perspective and help us to imagine how we might live a good life. I will also share some of my own boundaries below that have come through my own wrestling with these issues. I’m not perfect at this, I continue to have days or weeks where I am not as diligent or healthy as I would like to be. To begin examining this question from a faith perspective I am going to start with the two great commandments. Here is how the Gospel of Mark tells the story where the two great commandments are introduced:

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. (Mark 12: 28-31)

I’m going to focus in on the second commandment, and in particular the second phrase. If we are going to love our neighbor as we love ourselves it means we need to be able to love ourselves. It is hard to love your neighbor more than you love yourself. When we are not taking care of our needs we often reply in anger, frustration or in resignation that this is one more person who is taking us away from what we want to be doing. We set boundaries so that we can be present with our neighbor. To be able to be present with another person is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

For me this also goes back to my baptismal identity. In my baptism I am reminded that God values me for who I am, not primarily for what I can do to earn God’s love or favor. God’s grace frees me from this continual seeking to be good enough in God’s eyes and my baptism reminds me I am already loved and valued. I have a plaque on my wall that came from my advisor in seminary which reads:

Neil Eric White, remember you are a baptized child of God; for that is the basis of everything else you will become.

My value does not come from how busy I am but from who I am as a child of God. There are times when I forget this and I get caught in the trap of looking important and busy. Yet, I am valuable not because I am busy but because I am a person created in the image of God.

A part of our identity as humans is that we were created for connection with God and with one another. That is one of the things I take away from the narrative of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 and 3. One of the predictors of an early death is the lack of strong interpersonal connections with family and a network of friends. We need interpersonal connection and technology can help facilitate that and it can also take us away from acknowledging the humanity of another person. Have you ever been interacting with someone when they suddenly interrupt the conversation to interact with their email or their phone? Or have you talked with someone and they never looked away from their email during the entire conversation? How did that make you feel?  It can make you feel unseen, unvalued and unloved. For parents I think this is one of the places where our messages can speak louder than any words we say: our children watch us to see a model of what is important and how they will interact with the world. If they see us modeling that email or work is more important than their conversation, playing with them, and physical signs of affection then they will also look for meaning and value in their work and electronic devices.

Here are some of the boundaries I use as a person who has thought through some of these items from the perspective of faith and seeking a better life: I include these a descriptive and not as prescriptive, they are what I do and I would invite you to think about how you might set your own boundaries.

  • I attempt to engage email in a couple blocks during the day. Typically, I try to respond to email in 24 hours if a response is needed. My normal pattern is once when I begin my work day, once before lunch and once later in the afternoon.
  • I do filter based on who an email is from and the content of the title whether I even need to open an email. Do I occasionally miss something? Yes, but I am willing to risk missing something for the time and the freedom I gain from this.
  • I do not open email on my day off unless I feel it is something that needs a quick response or something that will cause me anxiety not to respond to.
  • I do set aside times to be present with people and if I am present with someone, I will not look at my email or my phone until that time is over. I also do not check email or phone when I am out on a date with my wife, when I am working out or working in the yard. It can wait
  • Between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m. I typically don’t check email and I assume any type of communication I receive needs to be an emergency. If it is not an emergency, I attempt to let the person know politely but firmly that this is not an emergency and when they should contact me.

I do believe that we as people were created for rest, that we need a Sabbath and that means finding a way to be away from the demands of work for a time. My hope in this is that we can be both curious but also to provoke some challenging conversations about the values we have and the type of life we want to live. I don’t think of email as a negative thing, but I do know it can be used in a way that is detrimental to our lives, our health and our relationships. I do this as a way to model not only for my congregation but also for my children what is important. There is a phrase I learned from my mentor in seminary that says, “Don’t worry that your children aren’t listening to you, worry intently that they are watching everything you are doing.” If we say we want them to value other people and then we check our work email or our personal email instead of interacting with them they see where our true values are and they will emulate that. If we use digital technology and devices as a way to entertain and distract them while they are young don’t be surprised when they use them to stay entertained and distracted when they are older. They often learned their behaviors by modeling what we ourselves have done.

Discussion questions:

List the positive and negative aspects of email.

How do you feel when you are interrupted when you work? Do you feel like email is an interruption?

Have you ever used being busy to avoid a hard conversation or to avoid thinking about brokenness in your life or relationship? Has email become something you are addicted to checking?

Do I model using technology in a way that I would want to model for my children?

What boundaries would be healthy for me to set around my work? My response to email?

Do you feel like your email overwhelms you with information? Are there ways you can limit the emails you receive or filter them more efficiently?

How do we show another person that they are important to us?

Posted in Faith in a Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Advertising in a Digital Age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

Session 1 of Faith in a Digital Age:Advertising in a Digital Age

We live in a digital age. Some may long for a time prior to the advent of the digital age but the revolution of how we interact with others and the world around us caused by the digital age is not going to disappear. Digital technology has impacted so many areas of our life: how we shop, how we interact with one another, how we date, how we get our news and many, many other areas we’ll explore in these sessions. Digital technology is not ‘good’ or ‘evil’ but they can certainly be used in positive and negative ways. One of the questions that religion should help us answer is ‘what does a good life look like?’ As we engage the various aspects of the digital technology that we interact with we will be wondering together what does a blessed or good life look like in a digital age.

One of the hard parts of this discussion is that it will impact different generations in different ways. I remember the first computer that we had in our home, the first dial-up modem, my first email account, the beginning of the internet, the wide dispersion of cell phones and then smart phones but for my children who are entering adulthood they have never known a time without these things. One of the things you will frequently see in these discussions is people belittling or criticizing another group, think of how many posts on social media you may have seen about: what is wrong with millennials, young people, old people, technophobes, people addicted to technology. These not only tend to make broad generalizations about an entire group but they also tend to be shaming and shut down any real conversation. I want to enter this with a sense of curiosity, not because I want to adopt uncritically these technologies but instead, I want to think about how they may be used to enhance the life I want to live. I am a leader of a Christian community so I am also thinking through this in a manner that attempts to use the resources of my faith to think through how we might live a good life in our time.

The outline of the discussions is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: Advent of the internet and a connected age
Week four: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week five: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week six: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week seven: The dangers of a digital age

We are beginning with advertising. You may ask why are we beginning with something that has been around since long before the digital age, yet advertising underlies the digital age. Google, Yahoo and Facebook are all advertising companies.  Advertising pays for the digital age. If you get something for free it is probably because you are being advertised to and advertising is paying for the content. Advertising is not a new thing, advertisers have paid for radio and television content for generations. Advertising is not an evil thing, the reality that you are seeing this in a digital environment is mainly because the platform is financed by advertising. Advertising has been around for a long time, since people would put out a sign pointing to one person’s booth at a fair or one person’s farm to trade for products. Yet, advertising is much more connected than it was in its origins. Advertising attempts to sell you a story, not primarily a product. Humans are hardwired for story, it is how we make sense of our lives and our worlds. Advertising attempts to sell you a story in which the product is a critical piece of that story.

I would encourage you to think about a show that you watch and what is advertised to you. If you watch a Hallmark Christmas movie you will be advertised different products and stories than if you are listening to sports radio, a television sitcom, a science fiction show, a sporting event, or an award show. It is a revelatory exercise to pay attention to what is being advertised and the stories the ads are telling and what they say about what the advertisers think about you as a viewer. What are the emotions being pulled upon, the insecurities being exploited, the desires being projected? Who do the advertisers say you need to be?

Advertising works, even if we don’t believe that it does. Advertising even becomes a part of our culture in surprising ways. A quick example from 2018-2019, if I were to say, “dilly, dilly” most people would reflect back to a series of commercials for Bud Light. The commercials are short stories set in a fictional kingdom with a vain king, they are humorous and Bud Light keeps them on because they work. Nike and Gillette have recently generated controversy with their advertising but they are a part of the conversation of our lives.

Advertising may make us realize things we never knew we wanted. That is not necessarily a negative thing. I share the example in the video of Christmas shopping and being presented with ideas for my sisters, my wife, and my kids that I think they will enjoy. Advertising has introduced me to new authors who are writing in a field similar to authors I enjoy and whose work other readers have enjoyed. But when advertising begins to make us feel insufficient or encourages to go beyond the limits, we would otherwise stay within it is a problem. I started this class right after Christmas and Christmas can be a beautiful time for people but I also know people who come out of Christmas stressed because they attempted to create a Christmas that matched the stories of advertising and they will be paying for that for the next six months. Advertising can make us feel like we are not doing enough or that we are not living out the story we should be living.

Seth Godin writes in his short and entertaining book about advertising All Marketers are Liars:

All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is vastly superior to a $36,000 VW Touareg, even if it is virtually the same car. We believe that $225 Pumas will make our feet feel better—and look cooler—than $20 no names…and believing it makes it true. (Godin, 2005)

If I were to pour an expensive bottle of wine in a solo cup and in a crystal glass, I assume that it probably tastes and looks better in the crystal glass. I believe that a soda is worth more when I go to a movie, a restaurant, or to a sporting event than I would pay for it at a gas station or a grocery store, but it is the same soda.

What are some ways we can think about this as people of faith? Well probably the natural place to start is the ninth and tenth commandments:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

One of my realizations in studying both Exodus and Deuteronomy where the commandments are listed is that for the people of Israel were expected to create a different kind of society than what they experienced in Egypt. In Egypt it was a society where a small number of people had a large amount of the wealth and power and where many people were enslaved to pay for the wants and desires of this small group. Israel was always supposed to be something different, a society where everyone could recline under their own fig tree or grape vine. A society where everyone had enough to live on and provide for their family. One thing that would destroy this community would be to see what the neighbor had and to determine that I needed what my neighbor has to be satisfied. This is where a lot of conflict can emerge from and it can create in us a sense of scarcity and dissatisfaction. We often compare our lives to an aspect of another person’s life, and never their entire life and that comparison often makes us desire what the other person has and not be satisfied with what we have.

I alluded to scarcity above and I think it is important to realize that one of the dominant stories of our culture is a story of scarcity: of not having enough, of not being enough. One of the places I think we as people of faith frame this discussion wrong is, we think of the opposite of scarcity being abundance (more than I could possibly desire) but the opposite of scarcity is having enough. If we only think we will be happy when we have more than we can imagine we will never be satisfied. We will never have enough money, power, looks, success, fame or status. Every time we reach a place where we once said we’d be satisfied, we move the bar to a new place where we will be happy when we reach it. There are entire industries set up to feed upon our fear that we don’t have enough. Americans in general struggle with depression more and are more in debt than at any time in previous history and I believe that this is partially related to attempting to keep up with the projection of who we should be.

Lynne Twist writes in the Soul of Money about the “great lie”:

For me, and for many of us, our first waking though is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and or arguments with life. (Brown, 2012, pp. 25-26)

Part of a good life is learning to say I have enough. Now I have nothing against a person deciding to buy a new home, a new car, new clothing or any other item but the danger is when we believe that our happiness is defined by acquiring these things. When we have a mindset of scarcity we will never have enough and we will never be enough. One of the things gratitude makes us realize is that we have and that we indeed are enough. It begins to challenge the great lie that our life is lacking something that will make us complete or whole or that some other story will grant us our happy ending.

Ethically we need to talk about advertising in a connected world. You’ve probably had the experience of looking at something online and suddenly ads for that item and related item are everywhere in your social feed, your email, on websites and more. Or, if you have a device like an Amazon Echo or Google Home you may talk about something in conversation and find that advertisements for that item suddenly popping up. We give up our information pretty freely in a digital age.  For example, my grocery store has a shopping card which tracks what I buy and where I buy it in exchange for deals and discounts. But are we OK with some reading my email, browsing history, listening to my conversations and gathering my information?

If you think advertising doesn’t work on you and impact how you think about things you are deceiving yourself. It has been proven that those who believe they are impervious to advertising messages are the most likely to be influenced by them. This can have some profound effects on the way in which we interact with our world and with other people.

A final area I want to encourage you to think about is advertising in relation to politics. One of the dangers of targeting political advertisements and messages is that we can become surrounded by an echo chamber of things that fit our own political leanings. Your social media, for example, knows your political leanings based upon who you follow, what you click and what you say and it will continue to show you more of what it thinks you want to see. The danger in this is we become isolated from people who think differently than us. One of the gifts of Rejoice Lutheran, where I serve as pastor, is that we have a wide range of political opinions inhabiting (sometimes unaware of the differences) in the same space and it is one of the few places in our culture where we may be surrounded by people who think differently. In a world of political polarization, we need to be aware that one of the stories we will encounter is attempting to solidify our affiliation with a political group or view in contrast to others who may think differently.

Stories speak to not only our logical portions of our brain but to our emotions are well. Advertisers play on emotions which include: fear, hunger, desire, comfort, pleasure, the desire to belong, attraction, competence/intelligence, love, stress, jealousy, insecurity, image, connection and the desire for success. Using emotions is not necessarily a negative thing either, I use emotions all the time when I preach for example as I attempt to provide a fuller experience of what a text may be pointing to. We are emotional and rational beings and I’m reminded of the proverb about people being ‘emotional beings who sometimes think rather than thinking beings who sometimes emote.’

Discussion questions:

List the type of shows you watch. What is advertised during these shows? What does that say about you as listener/viewer? How did they make you feel?

List the positive and negative things about advertising. Somethings may end up being positive or negative depending on the situation or the viewer.

Think of an advertising catch phrase like “dilly, dilly” or “just do it.”  What are they advertising? What stories did they use? Why do you remember them?

What are you grateful for? Do you celebrate the things that you have or is it easier to desire the things that you don’t have?

Talk about a time where you purchased something and it didn’t live up to your expectations? How did you feel? Were you angry with the advertiser or yourself?

What do you think about organization mining your email, browsing history, listening to your conversations and monitoring your purchases to target advertising to you? What are some potential problems you see with this practice?

Do you think advertising is having a negative impact on the political process in this country? If so how?

Can you think of an advertisement that made you feel like you needed to change something about yourself? Did you purchase their product? Why or why not?

Posted in Faith in a Digital Age | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Psalm 47 God Assumes Kingship Over Creation

Stained Glass window at the Melkite Catholic Annunciation Cathedral in Roslindale, MA depicting Christ the King with the regalia of a Byzantine Emperor

Psalm 47

<To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Psalm.>
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

The mood of Psalm 47 is jubilant with its words continually urging the hearer to mark the celebration of the establishment of the kingship of God over all the nations and over all of creation. Structurally the psalm pairs actions of praise with a set of reasons for acclamation in a noisy celebration of triumph. While the idea of God as king may be a strange thought in a world where monarchies seem to be a romantic vestige of a past age it remains an important claim of both Christianity and Judaism in contrast to the claims of worldly power exercised by those with economic, political or military power. This psalm, like the rest of scriptures, does not recognize God only in a religious sphere. As Martin Buber stated:

He (God) is not content to be “God” in the religious sense. He does not want to surrender to a man that which is not “God’s”, the rule over the entire actuality of worldly life: this very rule He lays claim to and enters upon it; for there is nothing which is not God’s. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 224)

The psalm may reflect a context of the relatively short window during the time of King David and King Solomon when Israel did exercise power over other nations, but it does not require this context. The psalm also would have served as a strong polemical reminder in times when Israel or Judah were small nations caught between the Egyptian, Assyrian and later Babylonian empires. For example, in contrast to the Babylonian celebration of the enthronement of Marduk the Israelites would come together to celebrate the enthronement of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God above any other god. In a time when the people of Israel were not a political or military power, they still held onto a belief that their God is not only powerful but was the God of all nations and all creation and they remained God’s chosen possession from among the nations.

The psalm begins with a command not just for Israel but for all the peoples to clap their hands and shout with songs of joy. The title of the LORD, the Most High, combines the name of God with a title that is often used to address God when people other than the Israelites are addressed. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 431) The psalm taps into the expansive hope that God would indeed be recognized as the ruler of all the peoples. The people of Israel were not to place their hopes upon their military prowess but instead to rely upon their God as the divine warrior who would not only protect them but who would allow them to occupy a central place among the nations of the earth. Israel’s identity is tied to the LORD’s election of them as a chosen people and God’s protection. In closing the first stanza of the psalm in verse five we see God personified as shouting as God ascends and either blowing a trumpet (or a shofar) or having a trumpet blown to celebrate this ascension to the place of honor and power.

The second stanza of the psalm with a four-fold command to sing praises. The psalm itself exuberantly models this song of praise to their God and King. The psalm acknowledges God’s place as the king over all creation and over every nation. God now sits enthroned above every other god and king and the worshippers add their voices to the clapping hands, sounding trumpets and shouts. Not only are the people of Israel joining in this praise, but the leaders of the nations also gather to add their voices to the acclamation of God’s reign.

Even though I don’t live in a time and place where kings are the normal manner of governance the idea of the kingdom of God is such a foundational idea for Christianity and that involves God assuming king-ship over the world. We pray in the Lord’s prayer for God’s kingdom to come and yet, we sometimes forget that means acknowledging God not only as one who holds spiritual power but as one who executes worldly leadership as well. Additionally, we may think of this noisy description of clapping, singing, shouting and blowing trumpets as a little too exuberant for the idea of a dignified worship of God. Many people in European and American cultures were raised with an expectation of a restrained expression of emotion in the context of worship but in an imagined future where people from all across the world come to join in the celebration hands clap, shouts go up, trumpets sound and a voice are lifted up singing joyful praises at the realization of God’s reign over all the earth.

Posted in Biblical Reflections, Psalms | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Psalm 46 A Mighty Fortress

Wartburg Castle, Eisenach, Germany. Photo by Robert Scarth shared under creative commons 2.0

Psalm 46

<To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.>
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Sometimes the impact of a psalm is extended by the interpretations it spawns and the stories that have been told around its process of being handed on. Psalm 46 has a unique story within both my denominational heritage and my linguistic heritage. When Martin Luther penned his famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress” he was reflecting on Psalm 46 and so Luther’s paraphrase and commentary from this psalm have echoed among the worship of Lutheran and other protestant congregations for almost five hundred years. There is also a story that, when the King James Version of the Bible was being translated in 1604-11, William Shakespeare was asked to transform the poetic portions of the Old Testament, especially the book of Psalms, from Hebrew and Latin into English. Shakespeare, reportedly, reached this psalm on his 46th birthday and decided to leave his mark on the translation: 46 words from the beginning of the psalm is the work ‘shake’ and 46 words from the end is ‘spear’ in the King James Version. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, pp. 425-426) Even apart from the power of the song ‘a Mighty Fortress’ and the story of the psalm’s famous translator, the words of the psalm are incredibly powerful and evocative.

God is metaphorically referred to as the place of refuge and strength. God is the one who shelters the faithful one in both the times of peace and struggle, but here the trouble around is the counterpoint to the refuge and strength of God. Poetically everything in creation seems to be in chaos: the earth, the mountains and the waters all are unstable in contrast to the stability that God provides for the faithful. The presence of God moves the world from the shaking of the mountains and the roaring of the waters to a river and streams that make glad and a city that is not moved. God’s presence in the city creates this transformation for the faithful people.

The city is at peace even as the nations around it are in turmoil. Israel and Judah were always threatened by the military might of other nations. Yet, the faithful people were never intended to rely on their own military might. God would be the warrior that fought on their behalf. Just as the elements of the earth were moved from chaos to peace so are the nations that are in an uproar moved away from conflict. We are introduced to the title LORD of hosts which occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew Scriptures but only occasionally in the book of Psalms. The word translated hosts literally means armies and relates to military undertakings in both the worldly and cosmic realm. God as a warrior has destroyed the weapons of war, the LORD of hosts has eliminated the work of the armies of the nations. If God can cease the quaking of the mountains and the roar of the seas, then God can make wars to cease and eliminate the weaponry of warfare throughout the earth.

Throughout the psalm the poetry has moved from chaos to peace among the elements and warfare to peace among the nations and ends with a command for the faithful also to cease their movement and be still. The faithful community’s refuge and identity comes from their knowledge of God’s presence in their midst. Yet, the praise of God extends beyond the boundary of the community. The LORD of hosts is exalted among the nations that saw the weapons of war turned into fuel for the fire. The God of Jacob is honored by the creation whose seas are quieted and mountains are stilled. The psalmist boldly imagines a God who can be the refuge and strength not only for the chosen people but for the people and elements of the entire earth.

Posted in Biblical Reflections, Psalms | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Psalm 45 A Love Song Among the Psalms

 Psalm 45

<To the leader: according to Lilies. Of the Korahites. A Maskil. A love song.>
1 My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
2 You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips;
therefore God has blessed you forever.
3 Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your glory and majesty.
4 In your majesty ride on victoriously for the cause of truth and to defend the right;
let your right hand teach you dread deeds.
5 Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.
6 Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity;
7 you love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
8 your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
9 daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.
10 Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house,
11 and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him;
12 the people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people
13 with all kinds of wealth. The princess is decked in her chamber with gold-woven robes;
14 in many-colored robes she is led to the king; behind her the virgins, her companions, follow.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.
16 In the place of ancestors you, O king, shall have sons; you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.
 
Psalm forty-five is a love song, probably originally composed for a royal wedding between the King of Israel and their new bride. So, what do we do with an old love song that finds itself amid the psalms? It is a psalm composed for a specific time and a specific occasion and yet the fact that it was preserved means that it was likely used multiple times and that the community that had to preserve their scriptures by hand copying them felt that this psalm was worthy of inclusion and that this love song had something to speak to the people who would read it generations later. There are several ways to read the psalm that I will address at the end but before we place various frames of reference around the psalm itself let’s listen to the words spoken.

This psalm is the only instance in the book of Psalms where we have the author referencing their presence in the psalm itself. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 419) The poet speaks of their heart bubbling over with these words they want to share for their king on this occasion. The king and his bride are the recipients of the words of praise spoken by the freely flowing tongue of the psalmist. Although we now have the psalms preserved as written poems they originated as oral performances often within the space of a communal worship or celebration. What would originally be written by the tongue like a pen of a ready scribe would later be recorded by the ready pen to be uttered by the tongue of a later singer.

The description of the king in verses two through eight point to what the vision of an ideal king (and by extension the ideal man) is for the speaker and those who would continue to use this psalm in future weddings. This bridegroom is handsome and eloquent, and their looks and charm are viewed as a bestowal of God’s blessing. They are also depicted as a warrior: girded with a sword for battle, pictured mounted victoriously upon a war steed after a battle, their right hand (their fighting arm) is capable of fearful things, and they shoot sharp arrows (metaphorically) into the hearts of their enemies. They are depicted in a way that parallels the divine warrior imagery of God; it parallels this imagery so closely that one of the possible readings of verse six is that rather than referring to the God of Israel the king, as the divine representative on earth, is referred to as a god. The term translated God is the general term which can be either the God of Israel or a god worshipped by others. The language within the Hebrew tradition is scandalous if taken to literally since the deification of a king would be one of the concepts that the Jewish people would not adopt form the other nations of the Near East. The king could be the ‘son of God’ as in Psalm 2:7 but because of the prohibition of ‘having other gods’ many have understood verse six breaking up the first eight verses with an acclamation to the God of Israel. Ultimately, we will never know the original intent of the poet, they may be attempting to compliment the king in a way we would compliment someone today by saying, “you look divine” or “you are a goddess.” There is also a sensual nature to the description of the king that mirrors the sexual language of the Song of Songs as the robes are perfumed with alluring fragrances. The king is pictured as strong, desirable, handsome and charming but they are also pictured as being wise and just. The bridegroom is described as one who, in the poet’ language, is everything a king, man, warrior, and partner should be.

In verse 9-15 the focus turns to the bride and her bridal party which includes either daughters of kings, other royalty, or daughters of the king, the family of the king she is about to marry, and the queen, presumably the queen mother, dressed in gold in addition to the virgin companions who go with her. Far less attention is paid to the description of the bride and more time is spent giving her advice as she approaches. She is told to forget her people and family since she is now being joined to the family of the king, she is leaving behind one identity for another. She is also, presumably, leaving behind the gods that her people and family would have worshipped since her people are now the king’s people and her gods have been exchanged for the God of the king. The bride is also described as beautiful and desirable and her many-colored robes have gold woven into them. She has been dressed in the finest clothing for this occasion and she is entering a place where other royalty will present her with gifts to attempt to win her favor and by extension the favor of her groom.

The psalm ends with a blessing for the future. The king and the new queen will have children and those children will increase the influence of the kingdom throughout the earth. The psalmist gives their own gift, the gift of the name of the king being celebrated throughout generations. The irony is that within the psalm the king is never named and so the praise of the king and his new bride endured but the king’s name was forgotten. Yet, if the king were named the psalm may have never been passed on through the succeeding generations.

My initial reaction to reading Psalm forty-five was to wonder if I had ever read it before. I have read through the bible several times, but this psalm must have passed through my consciousness in previous times and not made an impression. It would be easy to dismiss the psalm as a remnant of a long-passed time and to place it among the stories of childhood, a story of a fairy tale wedding. It does reflect a world where society was structured more strictly along gender lines and a woman’s body and freedom relied upon her husband and while we never learn the feelings of the bride the psalmist wants us to assume that she too finds the king she approaches as desirable. I approach each of these reflections from the belief that there is something that, because they have been collected and placed within the scriptures, that we can learn from them.

So, what do we do with an old love song? Here are a couple possibilities: as early as the Aramaic Targum (a translation with additional comments on the Hebrew Scriptures into Aramaic once that became the spoken language in the Persian empire after 515 BCE) reads this as a psalm referring to the messiah. The psalm became a part of the texts that pointed to the hope of what the promised messiah. In the New Testament the book of Hebrews picks up this line of interpretation when it uses Psalm 45: 6-7 as a part of the litany of quoted psalms that attempt to point to who Christ is (Hebrews 1: 8-9). Christians have also used this language to metaphorically be addressed to the church as the bride of Christ. As Nancy DeClassé-Walford can state:

The Hebrew Bible certainly provides many analogies of the relationship between God and the Israelites as that of husband and wife (see Hosea 1-3; Jeremiah 2; Ezekiel 16 and 23; and Isa. 62: 1-5). The Christian Scriptures continue the analogy (see Matt. 9:15; John 3: 29; Eph. 5:22-33; Rev. 19: 7-9). (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, pp. 416-417)

Both the ‘messianic’ and ‘bride of Christ’ require a non-literal reading of the psalm and while they have been the traditional way the church has read the psalm, I also think that the words themselves being placed in the psalter can speak on their own. This psalm and the Song of Songs also can reflect the joy of sexuality that has often been suppressed in churches. There is a reason that even in our age we dream of royal weddings, of dashing kings and beautiful queens. There is a reason that God allowed there to be a love song in the center of the bible and a love song amidst the psalms, we were created for relationships and for love. One of the gifts of the psalms, and I am discovering in the rest of the bible as well, is the way they speak not only to the rational part of us but to the emotional part of our minds as well. We are people who dream of love and the scriptures remind us love, both emotional and physical, is a part of the lives of the faithful ones.

Posted in Biblical Reflections, Psalms | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Psalm 44 Demanding a Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promises

Love is Not a Victory March by Marie -Esther@deviantart.com

Psalm 44

<To the leader. Of the Korahites. A Maskil.>
1 We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days, in the days of old:
2 you with your own hand drove out the nations, but them you planted;
you afflicted the peoples, but them you set free;
3 for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory;
but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, for you delighted in them.
4 You are my King and my God; you command victories for Jacob.
5 Through you we push down our foes; through your name we tread down our assailants.
6 For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me.
7 But you have saved us from our foes, and have put to confusion those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever. Selah
9 Yet you have rejected us and abased us, and have not gone out with our armies.
10 You made us turn back from the foe, and our enemies have gotten spoil.
11 You have made us like sheep for slaughter, and have scattered us among the nations.
12 You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them.
13 You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us.
14 You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples.
15 All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face
16 at the words of the taunters and revilers, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger.
17 All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way,
19 yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness.
20 If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread out our hands to a strange god,
21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.
22 Because of you we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!
24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
25 For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
26 Rise up, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

Psalm 44 is an audacious psalm of a community that dares to articulate their disappointment with God’s perceived faithfulness. The psalm moves sequentially from the plural voice of the speaking community to the singular voice of a leader in a responsive plea as we move through the psalm. The community remembers the past, the stories they heard of how God did act in powerful ways in the days of their ancestors and contrasts the promises of their ancestors with their experience of God’s inattention to the covenant God made with the people. The people, amid their crisis, have expected more of God in the present and boldly demand more of God for the future.

Working through books like the Psalms and Jeremiah have made me realize how impoverished much Christian spirituality is because of our unfamiliarity with the protests of the prophets and the laments of the psalmists. Our Jewish ancestors and contemporaries in the faith tend to speak more openly in protest to God when unjust suffering is felt by the individual or by the nation. The Hebrew scriptures have the entire book of Job which wrestles with, but never truly answers, the question of unjust suffering. The faithful need a way to express their anger, disappointment and perplexity when the unfairness of the world causes the faithful to suffer when they have done nothing to merit that suffering. They need to trust that God can hear and will act on these audacious cries of the community.

As I was reflecting on this Psalm I was reminded of the powerful and painful words of Zvi Kolitz’s fictional Jewish man dying in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in Yosl Rakover Talks to God:

I die at peace, but not pacified, conquered and beaten but not enslaved, bitter but not disappointed, a believer but not a supplicant, a lover of God but not His blind Amen-sayer.

I have followed Him, even when he pushed me away. I have obeyed his commandments, even when He scourged me for it. I have loved him, I have been in love with Him and remained so, even when He made me lower than dust, tormented me to death, abandoned me to shame and mockery…

Here, then, are my last words to You, my angry God: None of this will avail you in the least! You have done everything to make me lose my faith in You, to make me cease to believe in You. But I die exactly as I lived, an unshakable [sic] believer in You. (Davis, 2001, p. 134)

In this psalm the Jewish ancestors, who handed on their tradition and faith to Zvi Kolitz, have continued to believe and trust in God when God appears to have abandoned them to shame and mockery. The psalmist can love God but is not pacified and will not be God’s blind amen speaker. They call upon the traditions and stories of their people, the resilience of their faith and their covenant with God and demand that God be the God that the covenant promised.

The first three verses of the psalm are spoken in the assembled voice of a community demonstrating that the actions of God in the past have been handed on from generation to generation to the present community. The specific memory recalled is the memory of the book of Joshua when the people of Israel is brought into the promised land by the strength of God’s action rather than their own military prowess. God is remembered as the one who uprooted their enemies and planted them in a land that they now consider their home. God acted on their behalf and against their enemies. In the fourth verse an individual speaks of their allegiance to God and their reliance upon the strength of God. In verse five the community responds that it is through God’s power that they can triumph over their foes and adversaries. Verse six returns to the voice of an individual stating that their own weapons of war cannot deliver them. Verses seven and eight conclude this liturgical back and forth in the voice of the people stating that God has saved them, confused those who hate them and in response they have boasted and given thanks. The first eight verses echo with the sounds of remembrance, praise and thanks but something has changed in the community’s life that will reverberate in the remaining two thirds of the psalm. Something has turned the community that boasts in God and gives thanks into a community that will accuse God.

Yet becomes the pivot point of the psalm. In verse nine we abruptly pivot from adoration to abandonment. God was the one who was trustworthy in the past for the ancestors of the psalmist, but God seems to have left the people on their own in their current crisis. In a conversation when you have a string of compliments followed by a ‘but’ or in this case a ‘yet’ everything before recedes into the background. In the psalm the ‘yet’ allows the action of God for God’s people in the past to recede from view as the current experience of rejection and abandonment comes forward to occupy the central position in the community of the speaker. The present has overwhelmed the past. The experience of God’s absence at this critical time in the community’s life highlights several difficult questions.

Rabbinic tradition links Psalm 44 to the time of the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who reigned as a part of the Seleucid Empire between 168 and 164 BCE. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 409) If this is the case it would make it one of the later pieces of the Hebrew Scriptures, written in a similar time to the book of Daniel in most scholars estimation. The reason this time period would be significant in the story of the people of Jerusalem is that it also marks one of the points when a foreign empire would attempt to disrupt the worship of the God of Israel and force the Jewish people to conform to the Hellenistic beliefs and practices of the empire. Those who remained faithful were subject to persecution or execution as Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted use military force to enforce conformity. The Jewish uprising in 167 or 168 BCE would eventually be successful allowing the reestablishment of the temple and a brief period of independence for the Judean people. The rededication of the temple after this revolt is celebrated in Hanukkah each year and is told in the narratives of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which is a part of the apocrypha for many Christians.

Whether the situation in the psalm refers concretely to the persecution under Antiochus IV or another situation of crisis it brings the community to the point where they wrestle with the perceived absence of God in a critical situation. The psalm moves beyond lament and into accusation. As Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger, Jr. can state insightfully: “Verses 9-12 describe the defeat of Israel with a series of “you” statements that fix the blame singularly on YHWH, from whom better had been expected.” (Brueggeman, 2014, pp. 209-210) The accusations are told in terms of a military defeat with the language of plunder, in the agricultural language of sheep led to slaughter, in the language of the marketplace where the people are sold for a small price showing their insignificance to their master, and finally in the language of honor where the people’s honor is mocked by their neighbors and they have become a byword, a pithy example, of shame among the nations. In this psalm their God has failed to be the warrior they could trust in, the good shepherd who would lead them faithfully, the God who held them as a treasured possession, and the one who by honoring the name of God would allow them to be honored among the nations. At this critical moment God has failed to live up to the terms of the promises God made to the people. The pain and disappointment of the moment has transformed into a “moral claim against God.” (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 211)

Even though it appears that God has broken faith with the people the people have not broken faith with God. As the poet and their community wrestle with why they are suffering unjustly they look and examine if they have turned away from God in some manner and their answer is ‘No.’ They have not forgotten, they have remembered. The psalmist is confident that they have remained faithful to the covenant that God made with them and so they utter these words in protest at the way God appears to have defaulted on the covenant. Yet, even during the accusations and disappointment the psalmist knows that the resolution relies upon God’s action. They demand God rouse, awake, cease hiding, remember and redeem. They have been sold yet they can be bought again, they have experienced death, but they trust that God can bring life, they have experienced defeat but if God again fights for them, they will experience victory. They call upon the hesed (steadfast love) of God as their only hope of redemption.

This experience of isolation is brought into one of the great expressions of God’s unwavering faithfulness when the twenty second verse of this psalm is placed in the middle of the Paul’s triumphal statement that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord in Romans 8: 31-39. Paul argues to the early Christians that even when they experience situations where they may perceive their own weakness and their distance from God that God’s steadfast love, experienced in Christ, will not be broken. One of the gifts of having both Psalm 44 and Romans 8 is being able to hold faith and experience in tension. There may be times where it feels like God is absent or has failed to uphold God’s promises to the individual or the community and yet the faith insists that God’s steadfast love will ultimately overcome the separation. If this is the psalm of a community that endured the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanies IV it would also be the psalm of a community that would see that tyrants reign end and their redemption come. They saw God’s redemption and could see their circumstances transformed from dishonor to honor. Yet, not every situation has a happy ending and there may be some within the people of faith who can utter at the end the fictional words quoted above:

You have done everything to make me lose my faith in You, to make me cease to believe in You. But I die exactly as I lived, an unshakable [sic] believer in You

One of the gifts of the scriptures we have is that they are broad enough to accommodate the various experiences of the faithful ones and give language for their prayers in the times of isolation and celebration. Psalm forty-four is a prayer from the place of isolation that boldly demands that God uphold God’s promises and has the courage to accuse God based upon the faithful one’s experience of suffering.

Posted in Biblical Reflections, Psalms | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments