Sunday, June 29, 2014

Do you have to be a philosopher to live?

Just for fun I decided to finish Ecclesiastes 12 in the music. It's online in the usual place. It supported my laziness from my youth. There were several questions I did not want to address - so that many books could be written and much learning be a weariness of the flesh suited me just fine. Eventually though I did do some homework.

But being a programmer - you know that laziness is my first name. I would rather work for days to find a repeatable solution than actually solve a problem by brute force. I think it takes real faith to read the Bible closely - because your lifetime is not long enough to finish it. And it's only a small library - somewhere around 66 books depending on how many you include and how you count them.

Anyway - Ecclesiastes is fun. My earlier posts on it get thousands of hits - why? I think it's all the funky transcriptions I included, confuses the search engines.

It's good to read an awkward translation, even a bad one - it makes you think.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

How important is it to read the whole story

Next week we have a truncated Reader's Digest version of the second half of the story of getting a wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24) Now I'll tell you the truth - I have read this story before probably more than once, probably somewhat randomly, but never slowly, one word at a time. And quite apart from form, redaction, or historical criticism, it is a curious story.

I have only done the first half to this point. You will need to sing it yourself because my voice only does so much these days - I did try (the intervals are all quite singable for one with good tonal memory) - even transposed it down a tone (the software won't transpose it back - or at least I haven't figured out how to do it).

Nonetheless it is a long story -even the first half! I often criticize my wife for the dramatic pauses in her story telling - she makes me gasp with anticipation - too much. And she has often criticized my tendency as a cantor to sing too slowly. Mutual criticism for 46 years and counting :). Go figure!

So cant I won't. So there. But here is the music to the first half - a pdf of the full 7 pages is in the usual place. The next 7 pages will hopefully be ready for next week's lesson. Genesis 24 is a 14 page musical story designed and edited to be recited. We don't generally send servants to get our sons wives these days - but it is a love story and a story of bravery and faith nonetheless.

Notice the language, the repeated words - it's not always a well - sometimes it is called a spring. The first half of the story is wrapped by blessed. Notice the ornaments that the servant sings at the beginning and at the culmination of his journey (bars 81 and 215). And the character of the unnamed servant of Abraham - how important this character is - how cautious (what if she won't come back with me), how bold (he runs to her - desperate for water I am sure), how confident (he displays the gold ring and bracelets), how careful (he prays), how careless (impetuous)! Actually everyone runs impetuously - the man, Rebekah, and Laban. My translation is of course curious because of the severe constraints imposed by the music. But you will learn something if you sing or closely read through it. I am sure you will notice things I haven't mentioned.

Now - is this a #bgbg2 story? - sure. I think I can assure you that I have only one ax to grind at this point in my life. And it's not a fundamentalist or confessional ax. Yes - read - but keep the brain and body fully engaged. I would say - read as literature, read as music, read as testimony, read as drama, read and say 'what for!' And don't accept pat answers. Be wary of your power and of the powers that you perceive that others wish to exercise over you. If the story is awful, it probably is awful and was awful and is not there to be imitated. If there is a flaw or a contradiction, love it, turn it and turn it again. Especially don't accept the statement that this complex of documents whose boundaries are loosely defined by human institutions can be watertight with respect to some undefinable perfection. Though it is sufficient, it needs no trite packaging.

I have been reading about philosophy, and post modernism of the strong and the weak kind (I always thought that description of an age was odd). Remember Spinoza and his deconstruction of the divine right of kings what the essayists like Ronald Hendel in the latest SBL Journal, Vol 133 No 2, see as the beginning of critical reading of Scripture. (Well, critical of a different sort - not all who are pre-Spinoza are without comfort. And some comfort is cold.)

I only read about these things - I don't read the philosophers themselves - not enough time in the day. You can ask why I read the Bible - and particularly why the Old Testament. There is an invisible unnamed servant (with camels?) who seems to be with me in thick and thin and I have been called in my impetuous nature to go with him to a place I have not been to before.  Don't worry about the camels.

That means, in the overall scheme of things, that these stories are going to undermine my assumptions - especially my religious ones.

Perhaps my wife's dramatics are more important than I allow. Go on - find the pdf and read the whole thing!

Monday, June 23, 2014

How important is it to read all of a long psalm?

It is obvious that the Common Lectionary is designed to get people out of church in time for their lunch. (Um, isn't it?)

So I am a whole week ahead of myself. I posted a bit on Abraham and the promised child a week early. Time then to think about what it means to have Psalm 89 as the chosen psalm. Poor Anglican chanters - so many verses! So they reduce it.

What is the Psalm about and how could you tell without reading it slowly? It's right there in the first (second) verse
Of the loving-kindness of יהוה
forever I will sing
from generation to generation I will make known
your faithfulness with my mouth

It is all about the loving kindness of Yahweh. I don't recommend using adonai or the Lord in English - use the name if you don't want to say the word - because then you know if you are talking about God's name or the appointed Adon, Lord that also occurs in the Psalms (like Psalm 110 Ha-shem said to my Lord).

Loving kindness begins every section of the psalm except the great lament. What - there's a great lament in this psalm? I didn't know that. You won't know unless you read the whole thing. Why is there a lament? Because this is the record at the close of Book 3 of the Psalter, of the failure of the Davidic monarchy, the failure of the promised seed Psalm 89:5, (4 in English). (Ah - connection to Abraham...)

The lectionary only gives us the promise and the happy bit - no deal for reality, folks. How is it that this psalm is about failure and closes a whole book and is answered by Psalm 90, the prayer of Moses? It is a great story - it needs study. We all recapitulate that story. We are monarchs, we are promised the ability to govern (knowing it is really The Name that governs), and we fail. What then? We remember the former loving-kindnesses sworn to David and we wait for redemption which will surely come. But the enemies? (Psalm 89:52)...

There's another reason we only read 8 verses of the 53 (52) - there's just too much to say. If you want to learn what is in the Bible, start with the Psalms and read the whole as if it were a book. This is true for anyone. The liturgy of the Synagogue has lots of psalms (tehillim - praises). The Christians should sing at least a psalm a week - or at least one a day. The other faith of Abraham pays lip service to the TNK but I bet very few read it, just as very few Christians read it well.

How do we solve such a problem? I am flummoxed, I admit. It took me 60 years to get started! Why should The Name teach through poetry? Is there any philosophical or narrative or historical or religious or personal reason for such an approach to the barriers we put up?

I put the music for the psalm in the usual place - but I haven't superimposed the translation. There was another error in the transcription compared with the Aleppo Codex - easy to spot, a failure to return to the tonic at the end of a verse. The first page has two shalsheletim which SHV interprets as a (sort-of) glissando (bars 8 and 14). The whole psalm is below including a table of the words that recur between 6 and 8 times. Give it a try.

89 - of anointed and sworn to build – creation not profaned
מַשְׂכִּיל
לְאֵיתָן הָאֶזְרָחִי
1An insight
of Ethan the Ezrahite

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה
עוֹלָם אָשִׁירָה
לְדֹר וָדוֹר אוֹדִיעַ
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בְּפִי
2Of the loving-kindness of יְהוָה
forever I will sing
from generation to generation I will make known
your faithfulness with my mouth
כִּי אָמַרְתִּי
עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה
שָׁמָיִם תָּכִן
אֱמוּנָתְךָ בָהֶם
3for I said,
loving-kindness ever builds
heavens you will establish
your faithfulness is in them
כָּרַתִּי בְּרִית לִבְחִירִי
נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לְדָוִד עַבְדִּי
4I have cut a covenant with my chosen
I have sworn to David my servant
עַד עוֹלָם אָכִין זַרְעֶךָ
וּבָנִיתִי לְדֹר וָדֹר כִּסְאֲךָ
סֶלָה
5For evermore I will establish your seed
and I will build up your throne from generation to generation
Selah

וְיוֹדוּ שָׁמַיִם פִּלְאֲךָ יְהוָה
אַף אֱמוּנָתְךָ בִּקְהַל קְדֹשִׁים
6Let the heavens give thanks for your wonders יְהוָה
also your faithfulness in the congregation of holy ones
כִּי מִי בַּשַּׁחַק יַעֲרֹךְ לַיהוָה
יִדְמֶה לַיהוָה בִּבְנֵי אֵלִים
7For who in the sky will compare with יְהוָה?
Who has the likeness of יְהוָה among the children of God?
אֵל נַעֲרָץ
בְּסוֹד קְדֹשִׁים רַבָּה
וְנוֹרָא עַל כָּל סְבִיבָיו
8God is ruthless
in the plenary council of the holy ones
feared above all around him
יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת
מִי כָמוֹךָ חֲסִין יָהּ
וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ סְבִיבוֹתֶיךָ
9יְהוָה God of hosts,
who is like you, Yah invincible
and your faithfulness all around you?
אַתָּה מוֹשֵׁל
בְּגֵאוּת הַיָּם
בְּשׂוֹא גַלָּיו
אַתָּה תְשַׁבְּחֵם
10You yourself govern
over the pride of the sea
when its waves gloat
you yourself soothe them
אַתָּה דִכִּאתָ כֶחָלָל רָהַב
בִּזְרוֹעַ עֻזְּךָ
פִּזַּרְתָּ אוֹיְבֶיךָ
11You yourself crushed Rahab to contrition as one who is profaned
With the arm of your strength
you have scattered your enemies

לְךָ שָׁמַיִם
אַף לְךָ אָרֶץ
תֵּבֵל וּמְלֹאָהּ
אַתָּה יְסַדְתָּם
12Yours heavens
yours also is earth
world and its fullness
you yourself founded them
צָפוֹן וְיָמִין
אַתָּה בְרָאתָם
תָּבוֹר וְחֶרְמוֹן
בְּשִׁמְךָ יְרַנֵּנוּ
13North and south
you yourself created them
Tabor and Hermon
in your name will shout for joy

לְךָ זְרוֹעַ עִם גְּבוּרָה
תָּעֹז יָדְךָ
תָּרוּם יְמִינֶךָ
14Yours is an arm with valour
strong is your hand
exalted your right hand
צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט
מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ
חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
יְקַדְּמוּ פָנֶיךָ
15Righteousness and judgment
are the stability of your throne
Loving-kindness and truth
go before your face

אַשְׁרֵי הָעָם
יֹדְעֵי תְרוּעָה
יְהוָה בְּאוֹר פָּנֶיךָ יְהַלֵּכוּן
16Happy the people
knowing jubilation
יְהוָה in the light of your face they will walk
בְּשִׁמְךָ יְגִילוּן כָּל הַיּוֹם
וּבְצִדְקָתְךָ יָרוּמוּ
17In your name they will rejoice all the day long
and in your righteousness they will be exalted
כִּי תִפְאֶרֶת עֻזָּמוֹ אָתָּה
וּבִרְצוֹנְךָ תָּרוּם קַרְנֵינוּ
18for the adornment of their strength is you yourself
and in your acceptance our horn will be exalted
כִּי לַיהוָה מָגִנֵּנוּ
וְלִקְדוֹשׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל מַלְכֵּנוּ
19For of יְהוָה is our shield
and the Holy One of Israel our king

אָז דִּבַּרְתָּ בְחָזוֹן
לַחֲסִידֶיךָ וַתֹּאמֶר
שִׁוִּיתִי עֵזֶר עַל גִּבּוֹר
הֲרִימוֹתִי בָחוּר מֵעָם
20Then you spoke in a vision
to one under your mercy and said
I have agreed to help with one who prevails
I have exalted a chosen from the people
מָצָאתִי דָּוִד עַבְדִּי
בְּשֶׁמֶן קָדְשִׁי מְשַׁחְתִּיו
21I have found David my servant
with the oil of my holiness I have anointed him

אֲשֶׁר יָדִי תִּכּוֹן עִמּוֹ
אַף זְרוֹעִי תְאַמְּצֶנּוּ
22that my hand will be established with him
also my arm will assure him
לֹא יַשִּׁיא אוֹיֵב בּוֹ
וּבֶן עַוְלָה לֹא יְעַנֶּנּוּ
23and an enemy will not have a claim on him
and a child of injustice will not answer him
וְכַתּוֹתִי מִפָּנָיו צָרָיו
וּמְשַׂנְאָיו אֶגּוֹף
24and I have beaten his foes before his face
and those hating him I will plague

וֶאֱמוּנָתִי וְחַסְדִּי עִמּוֹ
וּבִשְׁמִי תָּרוּם קַרְנוֹ
25And my faithfulness and my loving-kindness are with him
and in my name his horn will be exalted
וְשַׂמְתִּי בַיָּם יָדוֹ
וּבַנְּהָרוֹת יְמִינוֹ
26and I have set up his hand in the sea
and in the rivers his right hand

הוּא יִקְרָאֵנִי
אָבִי אָתָּה
אֵלִי וְצוּר יְשׁוּעָתִי
27He will call to me
you are my father
my God and the rock of my salvation
אַף אָנִי בְּכוֹר אֶתְּנֵהוּ
עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי אָרֶץ
28I myself will also make him firstborn
on high to the kings of earth

לְעוֹלָם אֶשְׁמָר לוֹ חַסְדִּי
וּבְרִיתִי נֶאֱמֶנֶת לוֹ
29Forever I will keep my loving-kindness with him
and my covenant will be his amen
וְשַׂמְתִּי לָעַד זַרְעוֹ
וְכִסְאוֹ כִּימֵי שָׁמָיִם
30And I have set up his seed for ever
and his throne as the days of heaven

אִם יַעַזְבוּ בָנָיו תּוֹרָתִי
וּבְמִשְׁפָּטַי לֹא יֵלֵכוּן
31If his children forsake my instruction
or fail to walk in my judgment
אִם חֻקֹּתַי יְחַלֵּלוּ
וּמִצְו‍ֹתַי לֹא יִשְׁמֹרוּ
32If they profane my statutes
or fail to keep my commandments
וּפָקַדְתִּי בְשֵׁבֶט פִּשְׁעָם
וּבִנְגָעִים עֲו‍ֹנָם
33then I will visit their transgression with the sceptre
and with touches their iniquity

וְחַסְדִּי לֹא אָפִיר מֵעִמּוֹ
וְלֹא אֲשַׁקֵּר בֶּאֱמוּנָתִי
34but my loving-kindness will not be frustrated in him
and will not be proven false in my faithfulness
לֹא אֲחַלֵּל בְּרִיתִי
וּמוֹצָא שְׂפָתַי לֹא אֲשַׁנֶּה
35I will not profane my covenant
and what emerges from my lips I will not feign

אַחַת נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי בְקָדְשִׁי
אִם לְדָוִד אֲכַזֵּב
36Once I have sworn in my holiness
would I lie to David?
זַרְעוֹ לְעוֹלָם יִהְיֶה
וְכִסְאוֹ כַשֶּׁמֶשׁ נֶגְדִּי
37His seed will be forever
and his throne as the sun before me
כְּיָרֵחַ יִכּוֹן עוֹלָם
וְעֵד בַּשַּׁחַק נֶאֱמָן
סֶלָה
38As the moon it will be established forever
a witness as faithful as the sky
Selah

וְאַתָּה זָנַחְתָּ וַתִּמְאָס
הִתְעַבַּרְתָּ עִם מְשִׁיחֶךָ
39But you yourself have rejected and refused
You have passed over with your anointed
נֵאַרְתָּה בְּרִית עַבְדֶּךָ
חִלַּלְתָּ לָאָרֶץ נִזְרוֹ
40You have nullified the covenant of your servant
You have profaned his consecration to the earth
פָּרַצְתָּ כָל גְּדֵרֹתָיו
שַׂמְתָּ מִבְצָרָיו מְחִתָּה
41You have breached all his fences
You have set up his enclosures in disarray

שַׁסֻּהוּ כָּל עֹבְרֵי דָרֶךְ
הָיָה חֶרְפָּה לִשְׁכֵנָיו
42All passing his way plunder him
He becomes a reproach to his neighbours
הֲרִימוֹתָ יְמִין צָרָיו
הִשְׂמַחְתָּ כָּל אוֹיְבָיו
43You have exalted the right hand of his foes
You make glad all his enemies
אַף תָּשִׁיב צוּר חַרְבּוֹ
וְלֹא הֲקֵימֹתוֹ בַּמִּלְחָמָה
44you will also turn the edge of his sword
and not let him arise in the battle

הִשְׁבַּתָּ מִטְּהָרוֹ
וְכִסְאוֹ לָאָרֶץ מִגַּרְתָּה
45You have marred his lustre
and his throne to earth you have hurled
הִקְצַרְתָּ יְמֵי עֲלוּמָיו
הֶעֱטִיתָ עָלָיו בּוּשָׁה
סֶלָה
46You have shortened the days of his youthful vigour
You have wrapped him in shame
Selah

עַד מָה יְהוָה תִּסָּתֵר
לָנֶצַח
תִּבְעַר כְּמוֹ אֵשׁ חֲמָתֶךָ
47How long, יְהוָה, will you hide?
in perpetuity?
will you kindle like fire your heat?
זְכָר אֲנִי מֶה חָלֶד
עַל מַה שָּׁוְא
בָּרָאתָ כָל בְּנֵי אָדָם
48Remember how transient I am
to what vanity
you created all the children of humanity
מִי גֶבֶר יִחְיֶה
וְלֹא יִרְאֶה מָּוֶת
יְמַלֵּט נַפְשׁוֹ
מִיַּד שְׁאוֹל
סֶלָה
49How will valour live
and not see death?
will he escape
from the hand of the grave?
Selah

אַיֵּה חֲסָדֶיךָ הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲדֹנָי
נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לְדָוִד בֶּאֱמוּנָתֶךָ
50Where are your former loving-kindnesses, my Lord
the ones that you swore to David in your faithfulness
זְכֹר אֲדֹנָי
חֶרְפַּת עֲבָדֶיךָ
שְׂאֵתִי בְחֵיקִי
כָּל רַבִּים עַמִּים
51Remember, my Lord
the reproach of your servants
that I bear in my embrace
all of a multitude of peoples
אֲשֶׁר חֵרְפוּ אוֹיְבֶיךָ יְהוָה
אֲשֶׁר חֵרְפוּ
עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחֶךָ
52that your enemies יְהוָה have reproached
that they have reproached
the footsteps of your anointed

בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן
53Bless יְהוָה forever amen and amen
Hebrew words: 384. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 67%. Average keywords per verse: 4.9.
Selected recurring words
Word and gloss * first usage1234567VsRoot
חסדי of the loving-kindness of
2חסד
עולם forever
2עלם
עולם ever
3עלם
חסד loving-kindness
3חסד
עולם evermore
5עלם
זרעך your seed
5זרע
כל all
8כל
אתה yourself
10אתה
אתה yourself
10אתה
אתה yourself
11אתה
בזרוע with the arm of
11זרע
אתה yourself
12אתה
אתה yourself
13אתה
זרוע is an arm
14זרע
עם with
14עם
תרום exalted
14רום
חסד loving-kindness
15חסד
העם the people
16עם
כל all
17כל
ירומו they will be exalted
17רום
אתה you yourself
18אתה
תרום will be exalted
18רום
הרימותי I have exalted
20רום
מעם from the people
20עם
עמו with him
22עם
זרועי my arm
22זרע
וחסדי and my loving-kindness
25חסד
עמו are with him
25עם
תרום will be exalted
25רום
אתה you are
27אתה
לעולם forever
29עלם
חסדי my loving-kindness
29חסד
זרעו his seed
30זרע
וחסדי but my loving-kindness
34חסד
מעמו in him
34עם
זרעו his seed
37זרע
לעולם forever
37עלם
עולם forever
38עלם
ואתה but ... yourself
39אתה
עם with
39עם
כל all
41כל
כל all
42כל
הרימות you have exalted
43רום
כל all
43כל
עלומיו his youthful vigour
46עלם
כל all
48כל
חסדיך are your loving-kindnesses
50חסד
כל all of
51כל
עמים peoples
51עם
לעולם forever
53עלם
PSALMS 89
Last printed on 2014.06.23-05:42

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Binding of Isaac

Here's a little of the conversation of Abraham and his son, Isaac. Note how it is surrounded by the story - and they walked, the two of them, together. This lesson is yet another alternative lesson for today in the Revised Common Lectionary.  When there are three alternatives, there is not so much common anymore. You will note that I only translated a bit of this. Just the conversation that surrounds the traditional - God himself will provide a lamb for the burnt offering. You will note that I did not translate it quite so. The word for provide is actually see.  You might read it as God will see to the sacrifice for himself. But that would impose an English idiom onto the Hebrew - and who knows if that was how an ancient Hebrew might have thought?

God will see. That is interesting, isn't it. Who's looking? What are we to make of Isaac - and what are we to make of Job - the innocent suffering for the sin of the world - whether it be child sacrifice or random violence?  Do we take Abraham's obedience as a model or do we take the meaning behind the story as a model? Must we stop short of explanation? [The pdf, xml, and score are in the usual place - maybe someone else would like to complete the translation.]

We might notice also that this is a male thing. The woman is never heard from again. Sarah never speaks again in the story. The next thing we hear of her is that she has died and Abraham buys her grave for 400 shekels of silver - a 'little thing', i.e. a hard bargain with the Hittites.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Music and punctuation

If the te'amim were punctuation, one might expect the signs to be the same if the same words were used in differing passages. (Though admittedly, I hardly ever punctuate poetry and prose the same way.)

Nonetheless, recall Jeremiah 20:10 and its similarity to Psalm 31:14. The te'amim are not quite the same. Here is Psalm 31:14, a carefully constructed cadence at the close of the common words 'terror surrounding' part way through the first part of the verse and of course not in the prophetic mode but the psalms mode.

Here's Psalm 31:14a - read an F# in the key signature (default for the Psalms). The first three bars have three different reciting notes (C, F#, D#) per my interpretive process. (Compare Psalm 2 also alluded to in Jeremiah 10 as noted in the earlier post.)
 כִּ֤י שָׁמַ֨עְתִּי ׀ דִּבַּ֥ת רַבִּים֮ מָג֪וֹר מִסָּ֫בִ֥יב בְּהִוָּסְדָ֣ם יַ֣חַד עָלַ֑י 
For I have heard the defamation of many,
terror surrounding,
they have reasoned together over me
And here's Jeremiah 20:10a - there is some similarity and some difference in ornamentation. It is all on one reciting note (B)
 If you read the first part of Jeremiah 20, you will note that he calls his adversary magormisaviv- suitable to be translated exactly as the rendering in verse 10 of course - not like the KJV! I guess this is calling the head of security a 'walking disaster' or the like.

Jeremiah's lament of chapter 20 in music

Now for something different. Jeremiah 20:7-13.

In this lectionary passage, Jeremiah alludes to two psalms. The laughter and derision reflect the two words of Psalm 2:4. Jeremiah is at the butt end of ridicule from his own people. This is a contrast to Psalm 2 in which the derision is from heaven to earth. Here it is from earth to the prophet appointed by and representing heaven. The beginning of Jeremiah 20:10 is identical to the beginning of Psalm 31:14.  Jeremiah makes this psalm his. One might wonder who was first, the psalmist or the prophet. But perhaps we all understand both 'defamation' and 'terror surrounding' in our own contexts even 2500 years later in time.

Jeremiah feels used, even abused, and is disappointed in Yahweh - so he tells him to his face. (That's the only way to manage. If you are going to complain, go to the top). Bruggeman, (1998 p. 181) also translates the verb as seduced as I have. The power of God who 'could' overpower Jeremiah is contrasted with the same word concerning his own inability to hold his tongue - that he 'could not' and again with those who taunt him - hoping he will be 'seduced' again so that they 'can' overpower him. As in the psalms, the repetition of the same word forms a rhetorical game that is missed in translation (unless you are as wooden as I am).

Bruggeman asserts without justification that 'the claim [of power] only asserts Yahweh's raw, primitive power'. I don't get his point. The power to seduce and overcome is more than raw or primitive and it is pervasive. With Yahweh, it is a power of love, with Jeremiah, a lack of power to resist the burning fire that he must express, and with those politicians ('peaceful mortals') who taunt him, it is the abuse of the same power to aggrandize themselves in their impotence over the one who speaks truth into their weakness. There is nothing 'primitive' here, particularly the motivation of Yahweh to save his people even if through fire. Equally, our mortal weakness pretends to be strong. And we too, failing in insight, share in the 'everlasting' confusion.

Jeremiah will ultimately be the prophet of the New Covenant (chapter 31) in which the Law of love (not the law of oil or money or influence or self-interest) is written on our hearts. So in verse 13 he does not lose heart even if in the remaining verses of the poem and song (Jeremiah 20:14-17) he identifies with the words of Job and calls down a curse on the day he was born.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A host of lessons for ordinary time

"and one's foes will be members of one's own household" Matthew 10:36.
One of the things I wrestled with in the psalms is that the enemy is not 'out there' - it is 'in here'. My foes are within me, whether they are my own tendencies to do what is wrong or my construction of the tendencies I see in others that seem wrong to me. If 'my foes' are 'wrong' then there is still a 'me' that seems 'right' in my eyes. Is that 'me' an enemy also?  I hope not. Perhaps that is an article of faith, that I can know something of right and wrong. Is this the same as the knowledge of good and evil? I think it is where 'evil' is an excess of wrong.

This pondering on 'me' is too constrained. If I draw the circle wider, who is in 'my' household? Is it family? Where does that start and stop? Is it community? But they support family in a host of ways. Is it the religious household, the household of faith - where foes, divisions, conflict over right and wrong seem pervasive? But they too are supportive. Is it those others who cannot govern themselves, the terrorists, the extremists, those of the whole household of humanity? Yes there are divisions and foes here but what history has created them that I should consider them foes?

The above comments are based on the lectionary lessons for this week. See the standard list here. It is a very long list with alternative lessons for the Torah and Psalms. In addition, our parish will celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, transferred from Thursday. The lessons here are: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16, Psalm 116:10-17, and in the NT, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, John 6:51-58.

So I could chose from several texts. A local rector has just put up an interesting post on Hell - worth a read.

I think I recognize Deuteronomy 8, but they leave out the section I posted on some time ago, verses 6-18, (2012 thanksgiving - shows how my techniques for transcription have changed). Here's a bit of it with the newer technique. But look to the next post on Jeremiah - what a modern prophet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trinity

Well, maybe I won't write that essay on Trinity. (As I wrote it, it disappeared word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, and even whole paragraphs, answers to questions no one was asking.) The lessons for this week are fundamental - Genesis 1:1 to 2:4. You can hear the music. Mode 1 is eminently singable. This may be the best 13 minutes you spend today.

Add then Psalm 8 (pdf of music here). And rather than the farewell discourse, (John 14-17), an endless source of material on the relationship between father, son and spirit, (which of course we have already read in the 50 days of Easter) the lessons of the Revised Common Lectionary are from the end of 2 Corinthians and the Great Commission from Matthew's gospel. These of course each contain a Trinitarian formula, 2 Corinthians 13:13, and Matthew 28:19. The lessons for this Sunday summarize in a few words what we have been pondering since Easter.

Jesus, the man, born of Mary, has a beginning. Psalm 8 speaks of a mortal whom God 'visits', of a child of humanity made lower than the angels, or made just less than God, and then crowned with honour and glory. This is an image of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who is appointed judge, as we have read in the past three weeks.

People talk of Jesus, the human, and his 'pre-existence'. I think this word 'pre-existence' can be 'non-sense'. The word is unrelated to our normal sense of sense: touch, hear, see, taste, smell, and balance. So I am tempted to remove the hyphen and say 'nonsense'. There is no need for this concept. Sense (what we have touched and heard and seen) comes through presence, not through a theory of what to believe.

The Nicene creed uses these words of Jesus, begotten before all worlds. In this it recalls the Hebrew, olam, meaning era, or age, or world, to come or remembered. World in this case is not the multi-verse or the uni-verse with linear time but rather, one could say, that it sets God apart from material in motion. God is Spirit (as Jesus reminds the Samaritan woman). In our memory of multiple eras and multiple cultural worlds, in our anticipation and hope for a world to come, this begotten is in the face of - i.e. 'before' all those times and contexts.

Jesus, is also son of David, as in parallel, Adam is son of God. From the phrase, child of God, Jesus is rooted in humanity. This is a human being, one of us, not some imaginary pretense at our flesh and blood. The Anointed is truly come in the flesh. And the Anointing Spirit is truly come upon us and lives in us. This is God with us. This is the presence that we truly desire, the satisfaction for which all our desires were made, the food that satisfies. (No need for greed or the fear that gives rise to it).

Why did we need the choice of Israel of which David was the anointed king? The choice of Israel gives a specific context for our human condition. There has been no human government based on covenant mercy but there have been many examples of such mercy within this canonical history. Perhaps the best rationale for Israel is in the long Psalms: 78 and 89. Psalm 78 gives us multi-generational Israel, selecting down into Judah, as a parable for all of us. Psalm 89 clearly demonstrates in its structure the reality of covenant mercy yet the failure of the Davidic monarchy.

And why did we need this particular son of David named Jesus? Christendom has demonstrated in its first two millennia that it has failed in the same way Israel failed. And it has also succeeded in the same way Israel succeeded. It does try to care for the fatherless and widow. Many governments in this tradition have refused to abuse the guest or the afflicted among them.

So could we succeed more fully? We must be 'one' - unified rather than separated from each other. If it can be said that the three, father, son, and spirit, are one, as Christians believe, why is it that Christians are so fragmented? We have a responsibility to be one as God is one. And yet there are, as someone quipped, more denominations in Christendom than there are varieties of cheeses in France. Our unity has been compromised again and again by politics, economics, and the accompanying self-interest. (Remember the quail.)  But it is not just the quail, it is also our understanding of holiness. Yet especially here we must have unity rather than division.

Unity is the essence of God as noted in Deuteronomy 6:4 - Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is one. Notice how the Hebrew manuscripts use big and little letters in this verse: the last letter in the first and last words of this section are writ large.
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃
This passage is a call rather than a creed. It is an invitation that creates its own enabling. The separations, the fragmentation, the infighting, the self-interest, the failure to govern are not like God, and we are called together to be like God.

The words YHWH one are also in the apocalyptic passage Zechariah 14:9. This prophet looks to the end and promises a day when YHWH will be one. How strange. In this case the phrase includes the verb 'to be' and it is imperfect tense (a story-telling future, perhaps). Note that the KJV has one LORD, an impossible translation. The tetragrammeton, the four letters of the name of God, never takes an adjective as a qualifier. My Lord is fine, My LORD is again nonsense.

Time behaves strangely here, with us being called into what we see as future, but which is really a primal unity that was before all worlds?
I think I will leave you to contemplate the music for a while.

I don't know which version of this essay (a trial indeed) will find its way to the blog while I am away on holiday.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Time to reread Gravity and Grace

“To forgive debts. To accept the past without asking for future compensation. To stop time at the present instant. This is also the acceptance of death...To harm a person is to receive something from him. What? What have we gained (and what will have to be repaid) when we have done harm? We have gained in importance. We have expanded. We have filled an emptiness in ourselves by creating one in somebody else.” Gravity and Grace (London: Routledge, 1992) 6.
Thanks to Jim Gordon at Living Wittily. [I am not completely convinced - some language usage unappealing on first glance].

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Pentecost - the dove and the quail

Pentecost takes its name from 50. It is 7 weeks after Easter day. We have also now counted the Omer, and 7 weeks (50 days) after the offering of the first sheaf, we have come to the feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:15). Shavuot is for the offering of the first-fruits. It nearly corresponds to Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church in Christian tradition, the day on which the Holy Spirit is poured out, living flame, living waters. The Holy Spirit is the one who is called in the Nicene Creed, 'the Lord, the giver of life'. While rereading James Dunn, Christology in the Making (1989, p 34), I note that he calls Jesus' resurrection the "first sheaf of the eschatological harvest...".

I begin with a review of where we've been in this reading exercise. Through the stimulus of Rachel Held Evans, I started three weeks ago with the death of Stephen and thoughts about the spirit of a human and the request of Stephen "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," reflecting the words of Jesus on the cross and the words of Psalm 31. Then two weeks ago, Paul preaches to the Athenians about Jesus, the resurrected human, having been appointed by God to judge the world in righteousness, a promise of the Psalms. Then last week, we celebrated the Ascension, the recognition that the offering of Jesus is fully accepted by God and that he is appointed as the ruler of all things, and that all power is subject to him. Jesus, in this image from Ephesians, is not standing as in the vision of Stephen, but seated, an image of governance.

And how does this human rule work? It works by Spirit. Not by might or power in the sense of coercion or force, but by the Holy Spirit. What is the Spirit of God that we should understand how the rule works? It is the spirit that is evident in the life of Jesus. That is, it is a spirit informed by the covenant-mercy of God as taught in the ancient texts. So we must learn how to learn and how to read and hear these ancient texts. As you can imagine, I consider the Psalms a generous dollop of poetry from which we can begin to learn.

This Sunday we read an Old Testament lesson from the book of Numbers, chapter 11. I transcribed some of this music last year on the complaint of Moses to God about making him care for this people. (Note, if we are going to complain, do it to God - to his face, not behind his back.)

Perhaps you remember that the people desired meat in the desert. God in this chapter gives them meat to excess and they are greedy to the point of illness. This is an awful story, a story of fierce and almost self-inflicted judgment. Interspersed with it is the story of the Spirit of God that was on Moses, being shared with 70 of the elders of Israel, as if Yahweh agreed with Moses that he had given him too great a burden to bear. What do we make of this strange pattern of interspersed stories?

The lesson in the lectionary for this week is only the bit about the elders receiving the spirit. There is so much more to the juxtaposition of the stories -
  • The people's desire for meat, belly-aching behind God's back - think of the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic ... here we are with nothing but manna to look at!
  • Moses' complaint, (above)
  • Yahweh's preparatory commands to gather 70 of the elders for the sharing of the burden, 
  • Moses' not believing that God can provide meat for 600,000 soldiers in the wilderness, Yahweh's response - just wait and see... 
  • the spirit that was on Moses being shared with the 70, two of the 70 being still in the camp nevertheless prophesying also, Joshua saying that they should be stopped, Moses replying that all God's people should have such a spirit of prophecy,
  • then come the quail - so many that the people get sick. The people are condemned for their greed.
What a context for this positive statement about all God's people being given the spirit. 
  • Is this Spirit that was on Moses the same spirit as the spirit of Jesus? 
  • Is this the same spirit as the rushing mighty wind of Acts 2 and the tongues of fire? 
  • Is this the same spirit as in the Gospel reading from John 20? If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained, 
  • Is this the same as in the rivers of living water as are spoken of in John 7:38, a text that no one can find! (but perhaps it is the living waters of Zechariah 14 - of which more next week).
  • Also anticipating next week's lessons, is this the Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation?
O how we could go on about this. But fortunately there is next week, Trinity Sunday - should be a breeze, eh?

Perhaps such a fire cannot be received if it is only to satisfy one's own appetite. Yet the appetite is given which only the fire can satisfy.

In the usual shared place, I have put music for Numbers 11:24-30. For more on the Spirit, there are several posts by Andrew Perriman which I have read recently, e.g. this one - particularly some of the comments.

PS - a local pastor is publishing his Thesis on Power and Authority in pastoral ministry here. The burden of pastoral responsibility is certainly a theme in this passage.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

May Biblical Studies Carnival

Jeff Carter has posted the May carnival here. Jeff has been very detailed and gives a taste of each post with its first few words. Nice touch. I am grateful for the lead off link to the music here.