Psalm 150

Psalms starts with the word “blessed” and flows like a rich nourishing river of God’s word until it ends with “hallelujah” – praise the Lord.

And a little like a river, following the course of it can get a bit repetitive, but coming across it can be the best part of your day.

This simple burst of praise is one of my faves. We praise God in his sanctuary, and out of it. With every musical instrument we can grab, but especially the cymbals, extra especially the loud ones. AKA come on, feel the noise! With dancing, singing, music.

I want to dance more. I’m a terrible dancer, but I would like to dance more!

Everything that has breath. In my mind I always add “while they have breath”, and imagine praising God with my last breaths, as my sister reports my mother did, singing about clinging to the old rugged cross.

And I imagine all the animals praising God and dancing, like those happy visions from Disney, snow white and the seven dwarfs.

But even without anthropomorphism, animals are praise of God’s creativity, they give us comfort, joy, awe, amazement and fascination.

I imagine the Israelites chanting this over and over to some wild beat, dancing away into the night. Uncle Rex, a classic old Aboriginal Christian leader talked about dancing and praise under the stars deep in Arnhem land, all night, from dusk til morning. Timeless. This psalm is about praising like that.

And for me each day, praising God in the sanctuary means in my heart, practising the presence of Christ, taking him with me everywhere, being alert to the spirit, seeking to obey, looking for the joy.

Hallelujah!

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Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

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.

Ecclesiastes 9

The book is roughly divided into observations (1-6) and conclusions (7-12).

After two chapters of relatively random conclusions, including a series of proverbs inspired by the observations, this is quite a focused conclusion.

Within the limits of observable revelation – (‘under the sun’) – with eternity apparent in principle, but it’s specifics obscured by smoke (‘meaningless’):

– death is the great leveler.

– it’s still a good idea to be wise.

The chapter alternates poetry and prose – it’s the same structure as the first 6 chapters of the book. I like it: when you’ve got something serious to say, you should regularly break into poetry/song. It’s not our culture, but it’s a good culture that balances and respects the observational and the reflective, the creative and the scientific.

I think of it as like Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory. Each child touring the factory models a character flaw of mankind, and each episode is summed up in a little song by the mythical factory workers, the oompaloompas.

Though there is a more highbrow precedent in baroque choral works like the Messiah or Matthews passion: you have recitative and dramatic choruses to move the plot along, interspersed with hymns, and arias to reflect on the lessons and significance.

Anyway, the “death” part of the conclusion acts as a an antidote to the improbable neatness of proverbs.

The teacher is clearly a lapsed try-hard, and he’s bitter about the evil of death meaning that the race is not won by the swift, or favour given more to the learned. That like fish in a net, death comes randomly and catches us regardless of how much we do or don’t deserve it.

But to more average folk, who aren’t elite Kings famed for great learning and wisdom, his almost sneering suggestion to enjoy time with your spouse, have a glass of wine and a good plate of food because none of the effort means anything, well to us, it sounds not to bad a way to wait for death.

And the second half of his conclusion moderates his “Homer Simpson” prescription for life – wisdom is still better than folly. He gives an example of wisdom that indeed was not honoured or celebrated, but which he knows however saved many many lives in a city under attack.

The advice adds up to something like the serenity prayer which generations of recovering alcoholics have clung to:

God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Chillax, but woke, perhaps? Oh dear! I just reduced the whole book to most cringe worthy church youth group talk! I must make a note for work!

I’m emphasising the chillax/yolo part of the equation today – rolling some public holidays into a week of holiday, off on a car camping adventure with Kelly, woot! And Rennie, (youngest son, 15) is off camping with buddies too.

Ecclesiastes 3

Oh chapter 3! Each bit feels like arriving at a moment of significant personal truth, but then at the end I also think “what was that?”

Puts you through the wringer and remains enigmatic. It’s quite an experience.

First there is the time for every purpose under heaven. Can’t help but hit play on the Pete Seeger/Byrds song, ‘turn turn turn’ in your mind’s iPod (unless you’ve absolutely never heard it).

I aways thought it was a cheat the way they added “I swear it’s not too late” after “a time for peace”. I thought “it’s not just about peace”.

But now I like that it ties it to a moment, civil rights and the peace movement of the 1960s. This passage is all about being tied to moments.

It’s such an evocative piece of writing.

It’s clearly about time, but also dancing on one spot, not making progress, because the series of opposites balance or cancel each other. A time to gather stones, a time to cast away stones. One day the stones matter, another day, they don’t.

You get its pattern straight away, and that rhythm creates a space in which your mind can wander and personalise the examples.

So it’s different every time you read it. Today I might think a about notre dame cathedral burning down, or how my son is slipping through my fingers and I can’t seem to connect with him, or regret not being more successful in the worlds terms, and mildly resent it.

Read it again tomorrow and your mind will go a bunch of different places.

Today it also reminded me of my mother’s use of the word “philosophical”. As in “I don’t like it, but I’m trying to be philosophical about it”

She wasn’t unique in using it to mean “coming to terms with a less than desirable outcome”. But it was while talking to her that I first wondered “how did the word for all the world’s collected efforts to understand the meaning of life become a word for shrugging your shoulders when things are out of your control?”

And at the same time, that memory gives me a warm sense of maternal comfort from beyond the grave.

Which is typical of the honest and emotional – cathartic I suppose – places this passage always takes me. While also supporting the general argument that life goes in ultimately meaningless circles.

Whew. Then comes the amazing bit!

How we are tortured by eternity. Because we can imagine it, conceive it – God put it there right in our hearts. But we live animal lives that just end one day. We are tied to time. And not.

That’s why “meaningless” is not a good enough translation for the frustration and restlessness the writer feels. If life were genuinely meaningless, it would be easier. He almost envies animals when he asks rhetorically if we aren’t the same? But the original word, Hevel, has the sense of life seeming like it’s going to mean something, but the meaning lying just beyond our grasp. Wisps of smoke.

I love that verse, it describes the human condition so perfectly. It explains almost everything. You can’t write off the Bible if it contains that verse, without telling yourself a lie.

Then the rest of the chapter talks about enjoying what you do have, and living a good life, calling out injustice because what little we know of eternity is the glimpses we have revealed to us of God’s unchanging character. He is just. He will will bring judgement for those wronged.

The writer seems to arrive at “We can’t know for certain what will happen when we die, but we do know what is good”.

And I have to get breakfast. Or should I say “a time for blogging, a time for tea”.

And to pray? Does God get a look in?

Too much! Use of time, relationships, mourning and dancing – connecting to eternity.

Ecclesiastes 2

I omitted to mention yesterday that the book has a bit of a citizen Kane structure.

There is a narrator. In the movie there is an investigator looking into the life of Kane. Ecclesiastes is bracketed by the narrator, beginning and end, setting up and wrapping up the first person narrative of the “teacher”.

The teacher is either King Solomon himself, or a later fictional invention of a Solomon-like character, similar to how citizen Kane is a lot like the real life magnate Randolph Hearst.

There are certain anachronistic language anomalies in the text which mean the fictionalised Solomon theory has gained a lot of traction with Bible scholars of late, though most chronologies of the Bible list it as written during Solomon’s time. I just think of the teacher as Solomon.

The teacher talks through the sort of dilemma movie stars or retired entrepreneurs face. You make a lot of money young. You never need to work again. How do you spend life?

You can live for pleasure, which he illustrates with enticing vividness. Even though part of you knows it’s shallow.

Or you can do a great body of work. You don’t have to do that to survive, you just do it for the work.

You can be more successful, even though you already never need to work again, just for the buzz of being successful, for the power.

He calls all meaningless. Which means by extention, he’s calling the wildest dreams of humanity, our most ideal fantasy lifestyles, meaningless.

The word from the original text, “hevel” is a richer word that has a metaphoric comparison to smoke or vapour. It includes the idea that it looks substantial, but when you try to grasp it, there is nothing there. Also the idea of obscuring clarity, of an enigma.

He says having done both shallowness and wisdom, shallowness is worse. But both end in death, even if you are wise all your life, you may well hand everything you have achieved over to an idiot after you die, which Solomon in fact did. What do you actually gain by being wise?

He hasn’t explored social conscience in this chapter, living for others. I don’t know if he does later on. But in terms of living for yourself, he concludes, it barely makes a difference if you are a shallow, indulgent hedonist or a successful disciplined achiever. It promises satisfaction, but you don’t get it.

Watched the series return of Game of Thrones last night. It will be fascinating to see how they resolve it.

It drew you in with all these characters all with different takes on what drives you in life being made a mockery of – it’s famously random scythe killed off the pleasure seekers, the ambitious, the pure, the dutiful, the corrupt, the self interested, the philanthropists. It’s constantly showed how meaningless our plans can be.

But it sustained you with a meta story woven in the background, of supernatural forces of fire and ice from which the characters find a greater purpose. These have taken us, as we near the end, to the point of a meaningful narrative arc, a resolution, a sense of destiny which contradicts the trademark provocative meaninglessness.

So how does it end?

Needless to say, I’m already loving this Ecclesiastes ride, bring on chapter three!

Psalm 90

Book 4 of psalms starts with a song by Moses. A commentator said there was some argument as to whether it was THE Moses, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. It’s exactly the emotions the wilderness leader would be feeling after a life on the trek from Egypt.

He’s so tired, and aware of the mortality of man compared to God. He’s seen so many Israelites perish before reaching the promised land, and he too will. He sees God’s mountains on the horizon.

He refers to metaphors of our lives’ ephemeral nature: dust, and new morning grass that withers by afternoon.

Letting go of the literal promised land, he’s learned that the Lord is his dwelling place.

It all leads to his request that God will teach him to number his days, making his heart wise.

Being aware of deity, of eternity is the key difference between his life and that of grass. Seeing our life span as a scene from a continuum, a snapshot freeze frame from God’s eternity, gives each day a value and a context.

He finishes by praying that God’s deeds among them, the work they have done in his name, will live on.

And it did. The exodus linked to the Easter story and remains one of the Bible’s most potent examples of God’s salvation.

Last week we were on the sidelines of a decision to end the days of a much loved dog.

Dogs don’t number their days. He got up every day and did doggy things. As the end came, he was not aware of his relatively great age or his cancer. You could see it increasingly interrupt and restrict his ability to do his doggy things till they became just a tiny part of his day, that he limped through.

He was a splendid part of God’s works in his way, but he was not aware of a long life compared to a short, of an eternity or a legacy after his death. He fully lived his doggy days, and the grief his family felt was a human experience that crossed over with his. They connected, and both conceptions of the meaning of life and love were still only a shadow of God’s understanding.

As less and less is unpredictable in my days for a season, as they seem to speed by, may I number them, and gain some wisdom in my heart.

Proverbs 24

A whole bunch of random wisdom. 10 numbered, and then a bunch of unnumbered “further sayings”. We’re talking pre Dewey decimal system organisation here.

The general theme is sticking to a sober sensible Christian life through thick and thin. When good people fail, when bad people fail, when evil seems to triumph, when you’re winning and when you’re losing, when things are calm or disrupted. Whatever.

Consistency. Calm. Letting God guide your steps, aware of the eternal picture.

The last few sayings cover honesty, fairness, justice and diligence. It warns against the slow decline that comes from lazy habits.

The underlying spiritual principle is the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, self control. Like yesterday, not much mention of God but everything points to his indwelling.

I’m working really hard to emerge from a feeling of inability to cope, to be self disciplined and regular in my habits. We’re starting lent today, is as good a prompt as any to think about self discipline.

I might cut down on lollies and alcohol.

I had a thing last year where I could only eat lollies offered to me when I’m out, I’m thinking to do the same for both lollies and alcohol. It’s a good way to cut down very privately, without making a public fuss about it.

Also it’s a step towards establishing a sustainable habit rather than a fast.

Very proverbs! Wisdom is personal. It’s about ethics.

Proverbs 21

The same themes. And pretty contradictory.

The important thing is our hearts, which the Lord weighs. The Lord values what is right and just, above all. Wealth obtained though lies is as insubstantial as vapour, leaving you caught in its trap.

Then again, bribes are an effective way to do business. The commentators say it’s simply an observation, not a moral principle. But it’s pretty confusing placing it in a book about how to be wise, alongside numerous statements that ARE moral principles. The collection is so random!

Then there is the most famous saying of this chapter… About how horrible it is living in a house with a contentious wife (or woman, could be daughter or relative). Commentator dutifully says it could apply equally to a contentious man. But why specify? There’s plenty about the evil of violence not specifically devoted to men.

Does it by implication mean that the whole of the book is addressed to men?  The options are the man’s. It’s not telling the woman not to be contentious, it’s telling the man to avoid her.

Discussing this with Kelly she mentioned this as an example of why as a woman you get used to interpreting the bible less literally than men.  How do you as a woman read a passage like that?  If you are suffering domestic violence, are you the man in that scenario? Is all this wisdom for men?

You get used to extracting the principle, reading in gender adjustments.

The bribery parts of proverbs could have a different cultural meaning in the ancient world. The commentator’s explanation, that its an amoral proverb, seems to ask more questions than it answers. This theme of wisdom is going to have to be one of those ‘leave it to heaven’ things for me.

I certainly have a softer, less absolute view of theology than I had when I was younger, though I’ve always been someone who avoids hard edges to things. Someone recently reminded me of the – apparently bogus – Winston Churchill quote “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”. In my experience, for many Christians its the other way around. Start conservative, go liberal.

Anyhow, I’ve got to be content to pick the eyes out of proverbs and not sweat the weirder stuff. And in that vein:

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
    that can succeed against the Lord.

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.