Psalm 141

Tender and brutal. Who was king David? A poet and a warrior. Intensely emotional, a tough and effective mercenary. He takes us amazing places, but surely few of us can go to all of them, he’s a rare bird.

He gets that religion is about the heart. He gets that temptation draws your heart to it. You, not it, are to blame. And a rebuke and a slap for the right things are blessings from God.

Please let me recognise that one. So often when I am told off, I reflect back the hurt of the moment, the wound to my pride. Later, when I am cool enough to actually take on board the truth, so rarely do I close the loop and go and express my gratitude to the person who rebuked me.

In the flow of the psalm, this idea leads to an aside from David that those he rebuked will recognise the truth of his words once they have been thrown down from their high place and their bones scattered without a decent burial.

“You’ll wish you’d listened to me once you’re dead!” Is an impossible kind of rebuke, but one likely to startle the hearer. It sits oddly in a psalm that has been so reflective up to that point.

He returns to a more worthy tone to conclude, fixing his eyes on God, though he does still express satisfaction anticipating his enemies’ self destruction.

If Trump goes, for instance, I will be satisfied, particularly if it’s dished out with some of the pain and humiliation he visits on those around him too powerless to object. David goes there, some have suggested this might be about his relationship with king Saul. But he knows his thoughts should really be fixed on God and his own holiness.

He knows it is by the grace of God, not his doing, that He can slip by unscathed as others mess up.

We live in a distracting age, may I remember that too.

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Song of Songs 3

I’m finding the commenters very inadequate for this book.

For one they have a tin ear for poetry. And they treat it like an interference to the message. “Don’t panic” they seem to be saying all the time “it’s just poetry”.

Which is pretty silly because the whole thing is a poem. Did the holy spirit make a mistake choosing the literary form? And it’s an ominously dismissive way to discuss one of the few female voices we’ve yet heard in the biblical narrative.

Also they are always hastening to make the case that this is all about the importance of sex being in the context of marriage, which it really isn’t.

I can understand that is probably a pastoral priority… If I was a Christian youth trying to justify an unwise affair, this book would be my first port of call, and the pastors need to be armed with counter arguments. But that emphasis is bit of a distraction if you simply want to understand the book.

Solomon turns up in this chapter on his wedding day, the first literal reference to marriage. He’s not a great normative example. The political, moral and religious damage he did to the institution with his 1000s of wives and concubines was explicitly identified by God as his downfall. Our recent ugly fights over the meaning of marriage in the equality debates pale into insignificance in the face of his trashing of the ideal of monogamy.

And that is what this song has held high til now. Not literally marriage, but monogamy. The power and wonder of deep and unbroken love between two.

If it was written by Solomon, he’s imagining an alternate universe where he is not enslaved by meaningless lustful appetites, and marriage vows used for cynical power games. If it his pen, it’s surely a work of shame and repentance.

The girl spends the first half of the chapter seeking her beloved through the streets in the night.

The over the top obsessiveness of it easily connects restless spiritual quests.

A guy from Iran was baptised at our church a few weeks ago, very moving story. A deeply reflective guy, he could not stop looking until he found answers. So humbling and encouraging that he found them in fellowship with us!

Then Solomon. He’s in a grand procession oozing luxury. My usually helpful commentator said that there are two processions, one for the girl and one for Solomon, and she will be Solomon’s bride, but I can’t see it, and her lover was a shepherd in the previous chapters. Had she spent the night wandering the streets looking for king Solomon? It is now about a love triangle? Say wha?

I think I’ll just enjoy it as an image of scents, sensations and luxury associated with love, like the banquet the last chapter. Jesus used Solomon’s man-made glory as a byword to praise by contrast a humble flower of god’s creation, maybe a similar thing is going on here. I don’t know, but I want to believe it’s still about humble authentic love.

I’ve been working at thinking about feelings of insecurity at work. What if it’s true, and you actually aren’t as nice, clever or loveable as you thought? I’ve been entertaining that idea and trying to have it not matter. You’re there to collaborate, just bring what you bring, unapologetically, but not as if it could be worth more than anyone else’s input either. Insecurity can be a kind of ego.

Stay loving and expect to be loved because of the promise of love.

Like the girl searching for her lover, or my friend at church being baptised after considering so many religions, only true love will do, don’t give up til you find the real thing.

Psalm 111

A straight praise Psalm. Talks of god’s goodness, provision, strength and eternal nature, and his kindness in revealing himself to us, “causing his wonders to be remembered”. That stuck out for some reason.

I think I have a massive case of overthinking. I was listening to Taylor Swift’s new song “me” yesterday and, yes it’s probably a cynical zeitgeist-driven money-making machine, but what a catchy chorus!

For me pure pop has always accessed a blissful euphoria that helps me feel, and let go a heap of complexity. These praise Psalms are like pure pop to me.

God, help me smile, help me relax and get on with the stuff I need to do.

I didn’t work worthily and vigorously yesterday like I hoped, I did stuff but it was piecemeal and poorly prioritised. Am I too hard on myself? Dunno. I’ve decided not to overthink today!

Sigh.

Proverbs 19

“What would you call yourself?” “A fool”. An exchange from the evidence being given by Donald Trump’s lawyer.

A person’s own folly leads to their ruin,
yet their heart rages against the Lord.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again

I keep having a break from blogging while I work obsessively on my music. It’s sort of related to the project, but it’s sort of weird too. I’m learning a whole new and very stimulating field of making sound work. The results never satisfy me, and I’m impatient.

I should start with a much better singer, but there’s not a lot I can do about that, and I should work in a recognisable genre, but I don’t want to throw away what I’ve done.

Am I being a fool? Probably. You have to keep your hobbies in their place.

My life has gone from unpredictable roller coaster to intricate balancing act as I try to live within my means and balance the relationships and responsibilities around me. I’m less temperamentally suited to this mode. Maybe that why I’ve had a break from this rhythm. Too many patterns.

I’m thinking a lot about the limits of ones own responsibility. I have a bad habit of wanting to solve problems that I can’t.

The chapter has some very well crafted and incisive messages. It follows the pattern of drifting from practical insight to spiritual.

I’ve been trying to think of a good message for Easter at work, I’m to write a brochure. I’m so spiritually blank. It great to write here again.

What a person desires is unfailing love;
better to be poor than a liar.

Thats a good general principle. I’ve been trying to start where the people would be at when they see the brochure. Watching Brene Brown videos. She’s great.

The wisdom, point by point, encourages you down a good path. It’s the book of a thousand Facebook memes.

Proverbs 9

Ok I’ve had a break for a week and I’ve been a little down. Also focusing on music, though it’s too much of an escape, I need to keep it in check.

Down because of good news, really about work. It seems I will have a full time job, exactly the job I am doing now. Which will make permanent a stop gap job I went to a year ago.

The down side is that it doesn’t pay quite enough, so to carry on will require some careful belt tightening for the whole family. We only survived last year by dipping into savings.

So it’s a little sad not getting the more highly paid job that I had no expectation of getting …until they dangled it as an exciting possibility for over a month….

It will seem good soon. I’ve been praying about it, and there are many up sides.

Also it was really only yesterday that I heard it was real, is just been a quite likely outcome, so I’ve been very uncertain for some time now. The uncertainty has eaten me up a bit.

On Saturday I went to the Aboriginal service at church. The visiting pastor was quite Pentecostal. We wrote our hearts prayer requests on a sheet of paper and put them in a bowl that he and other ministers present prayed over and claimed the answer to.

I put in concern about the job and my kids, unsurprisingly. Sunday morning he was there and I thanked him, and he and his wife wound up praying over my job a second time.

Then Monday I heard about the job! And I’m ungrateful enough to feel prevarication about it. Perhaps the Lord is speaking to me, an uptight old Anglican, through this prayer bowl.

Another reason I’ve been down just this last day because I made an uncharacteristically harsh Facebook post, criticising the Anglican church and I feel a bit exposed.

They sold the archbishop’s palace an old Gothic pile that looks like Hogwarts, for $17 million and I read in the paper that they have commissioned one of Sydney’s smartest architecture firms to build a new ‘palace’ in glebe, where my church is, for $7.3 million.

I linked to the article and said ‘strikes me as obscene, and I’m in the club!’

I just thought, why not take the opportunity to make a very normal house for the archbishop? The second most extensive fancy house in glebe sold recently was $5 million, the average is $1.5m, to put it in perspective.

The comments shot back saying the new compound included a 200 seat hall that would be used for University work (it’s across the road from Sydney Uni), and extra accommodation that would be used for visiting missionaries or church dignitaries and that the article hasn’t taken all that into consideration.

The discussion was pretty civilised actually, at least.

But that was how it struck me in the moment of reading it, and I wanted to preserve that reaction. I knew if I spoke to people I would move back inside the churchy bubble where it made sense, But most of the world is outside the bubble.

I did doubt my wisdom in doing that though. I wonder if there wasn’t an element of feeling frustrated at being so long at the mercy of indecision over my job, feeling powerless. I don’t know.

Proverbs chapter 9 refers to two houses.

Wisdom’s house calls people in to food and wine, it appeals to the simple to leave their foolish ways and gain insight.

Folly also has a house, offering stolen food and drink, which promises to be more delicious, but which leads to death.

It’s easy to see it as the choice to avoid immorality, sexual as per the last few chapters, or dodgy ways to get money.

It’s also talking about whether your heart is seeking truth, moving towards God, or fighting truth, hardening your heart to God. That’s why it can talk about the way of the simple, those who go into folly’s house, as leading to death. The ultimate foolishness is rejecting God.

In the middle was a section that seemed to speak to my fears over Facebook. About not arguing with scoffers or rebuking mockers.

Basically not having pointless arguments where you dispute the views of people who hate God. It’s a dead end if it just hardens your opposition to each other.

Also describes a fair whack of Facebook. It’s just people stating their prejudices at each other and getting angry at others who don’t agree and never will. It’s not constructive.

And I wondered if I was foolish for attacking my own church in front of non Christian friends. I also got to stand up for my faith very publically. So it’s not a clear situation.

Out maybe it is, maybe I’m in folly’s house.

My pastor invited me to the pub for a drink on Thursday. I thought ‘how great’ but then I worried – is this about the Facebook post? His wife personal messaged me a contribution to the argument, so it’s in his radar. Time will tell.

So there’s my start-of-year joys and blues, wisdom and foolishness, certainty and mystery, all woven with proverbs in a long ramble.

At least now I can also start on concrete, optimistic planning elements of a new year.

Proverbs 3

It’s advice to a son, so I read it through twice, thinking about me and then them.

It makes the point most emphatically that God is the key to wisdom: trust him for decision making, acknowledge him with your wealth, accept his discipline… And all will be the best it can.

God’s insight is precious, it was the basis on which the universe was made.

The last third is some practical implications, saying not to be a tough guy, but merciful and kind, based on the revealed nature of God.

My sons are both funny about Christianity. Neither of them straight ahead embrace it, but both have a lot of time for it. I can say I’ve modelled it in a way that they don’t just write it off, they see the value of it.

Lewes my oldest is not coping with many aspects of life, and the church is one of a long list, so it’s hard to know outside of those issues what his view of church would be. He gives a lot of respect to my views, even vigorously defends Christianity to others. He is a careful thinker about things.

Rennie is more of your classic teenager, rebellious and needing to make his own path. He doesn’t like being forced to go to church, but whether in his own steam he eventually believes my faith remains to be seen. Though I’ll continue to model Christianity to him and encourage him to engage, I also have to let him be him and pray.

Both of them are in practice more like the wise person in terms of not violent, ethical etc.

Of course, in today’s world it also applies as much to my daughter as well, in our society she is as independent as a man. She accepts Jesus more clearly, but does struggle to find ways to nurture and express her faith in the church. Her faith is a pretty wonderful thing I enjoy sharing with her.

I long for them all to thrive and to know God, I’m not the best parent in many ways. ‘lean not on your own understanding’ the verse says here. Indeed.

I’ll pray.

Psalm 76

A psalm describing the golden period of Israel’s power, when other nations feared to arm against them because they knew God was on Israel’s side.

It recalls those battles where Israel had faith and the Lord granted them victory by simply bringing confusion on their enemies. These sorts of things inspired fear of Israel, and fear of God.

A peace based on the futility of fighting Israel reigned. For a while.

Of course that still was the true deeper power structure of the universe after Israel the nation became shattered and fell to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. It remains so today.

But the psalm doesn’t go metaphysical, not explicitly. It’s literally a snapshot of the glory days.

The commentators drew out a verse that, now I think of it, did strike me, about God being more majestic than the mountains rich with game.

Creation is bigger than the squabbles of mankind, and God is bigger again, 2 steps beyond the fray.

They said this psalm has inspired Christians to be brave and true when marginalised or under attack, which made me feel a bit faithless.

I instantly thought: ‘this psalm describes a truth we hardly ever witness’ whereas others think: ‘this picture of man’s proper response to God’s power inspires me’

Whatever.

Maybe that response reflects how powerless I feel in world affairs generally.

Like that sense of pointlessness you feel when you hover over the wrong bin with a piece of rubbish. You know literally the environmental impact of putting one small bit of cardboard in the general waste bin is virtually nil.

I know the right way to live, I’ll live the right way as much as possible, but I’m not expecting to see my actions result in a significant shift towards an earthly recognition of the power of God any time soon.

Am I too old for this psalm? God is a lot older than me. Now, new years, is time to rekindle some crusading zeal, so I’ll pray about that.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 17

Who’s the victim here?

The second half of Job’s response to Eliphaz’s journey from sympathetic to emorionally sealed off.

Job has already reached the point where he realised he needed a Jesus-like intervention in the communication between God and man.

He started out absolving himself of blame – proclaiming his righteousness – now he absolves himself of the responsibility of fixing it. He needs grace, a stunning insight. He teases out the implications of that here.

He doesn’t fully understand God’s plans for him. He’s still both longing for, and bleak about, death. But he knows God is his only hope.

His friends haven’t even got that far, God has closed their minds. The tables have turned, Job in his miserable state is the one who has wisdom, even if incomplete and a poor compensation for his suffering.

I’ll appreciate the preciousness of God’s grace, and pray for my family and friends.

I’ll see a lot of old friends who don’t know God’s grace over the end of year period. Christmas is a time where God’s grace can be on the agenda, so I should be prayerful and thoughtful about that.

Job 10

In the second half of Job’s response to Bildad he rails against God more than his friend.

The opening sections contrast the tenderness and love with which Job was created by God with the lousy life he is having.

While the discussion of justice in Job is sophisticated, his take on the afterlife seems rudimentary from my perspective.

He believes that after death he’ll go to “the place of no return, to the land of gloom and utter darkness“. The Jewish Sheol idea, not like heaven as we understand it

My favourite image in the last chapter was of his days going too fast, they ‘skim past like boats of papyrus’. It reminded me of making paper boats after rain when I was young and watching them zoom down the gutter at the side of the road with the storm water and disappear down drain.

It made me wonder though, why if he was suffering so badly, he wouldn’t LIKE the idea that his days went quickly. It’s preferable, isn’t it?

But this explains that his days on earth are all he thinks he has. He ends the chapter praying that God will leave him alone so he can have ‘a moment’s joy’ before death.

This theology makes you realise why their expectation of earthly blessing is so important to them. If God takes that away, they have no blessing, they never experience it.

Compare the greed of today’s prosperity theologians, who promise God’s blessing of wealth during our time on earth AND after you die. Having your cake and eating it too.

With such a gloomy view of the afterlife, no wonder Job is so emotional.

God sort of reveals himself on a need to know basis. We still only understand him in part, as Paul says. But job knows even less than us.

It’s interesting: what is the bare minimum revelation God gives to mankind, what are the essentials?

Remember, Job isn’t being portrayed as one of the chosen, he’s outside the covenant of Abraham.

He knows there is an all powerful creator, God the father. He knows that we are known by God, and that ethical living matters to the creator. He knows God can forgive.

Doesn’t seem to have a strong sense of original sin or afterlife.

Australian Aboriginal peoples, disconnected from the scriptures for 60000 years, got to similar places, though I think they had a good idea of an afterlife. The word for caterpillar is a traditional child’s name, for example, because apparently they thought of butterflies as a metaphor for the spirit of people who have departed.

Job has got to the same place as the psalmists and the prophets; of realising that a simple theory of reward for righteousness does not stand up to empirical experience. So he is seeking more. He’s longed for a Messiah figure but not revisited his attitude to the afterlife yet.

I don’t exactly know where I’m going with this, but it’s interesting.

After ending yesterday’s notes sarcastically, I did actually find Job comforting yesterday when I was notified that I didn’t get even an interview for one of the three jobs I applied for so far. God’s promises are great, abundant, tender and as strong as solid rock; but that job is not one of them.