Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dealing with de troubles of de world

Beloved, I will put before you a perplexity. It is I hope likely that it will not be completely comprehensible. Are we to be ruled by silver? Whether paid as tribute or demanded as protection money. Protection money today, is what we call insurance.

I was pondering the obscure thought behind Psalm 68 Hebrew verse 31, one of many thoughts that are embedded in my book.  Studying the Psalter builds confidence continually.

גְּעַר חַיַּת קָנֶה
עֲדַת אַבִּירִים בְּעֶגְלֵי עַמִּים
מִתְרַפֵּס בְּרַצֵּי כָסֶף
בִּזַּר עַמִּים קְרָבוֹת יֶחְפָּצוּ
rebuke the animal of the purchase [see note below]
the testimony of the mighty with the calves of the peoples
submitting themselves in bits of silver
he will dispel peoples delighting in close combat

What has it to do with us today? attacking kings ride away; (verse 13) vulnerable women publish the good news; (verse 12) so why should the church fear a potential army of litigators? The litigators have already had their teeth and claws into her.

rebuke the animal of the purchase. This could be as obscure as the animal of the reed or the company of spearmen. The root suggests to me a connection to purchase as in getting an inheritance or a wife (Ruth 4). The remainder of the verse lends itself to an economic interpretation. (See also Psalm 74.) The animal of the reed might suggest an economic metaphor regarding treaty arrangements with Egypt. The confusion of economics with love is a common problem in the management of human relations. (Note the reference to the same root in Song 4:14, translated as the name of a spice: calamus.)

So the churches today are engaged, all of them I suspect, in self-protection. Leaders and volunteers alike are threatened with withdrawal of licenses and closure of churches - not because of too few parishioners, but because of money fears related to human scandals thereby forcing the institution into policy directives: get your people to sign this by [insert deadline] or else. What does this reveal but that the churches fail to know their God.

From the abuses of the 50s to the scandals over the next 62 years (I was born there 5 years earlier just in time - and it is not the Holy City), the church (indeed society - teachers, music, sports, and dance organizations - anywhere that requires trust and teaching and is open to the distortion of love - indeed even outside of our cultures in families where the will to power of the stronger is imposed on the weaker) - but I say again: the churches have failed while delivering the message of salvation. [The message is there, but the vehicle sputters along.] And the imposed hierarchy is part of the problem. It is now the world in the church. And so the church is ruled by the world and its desires rather than by her Lord. [This is not significantly different from the machinations of the governments of Israel and Judah and the correction delivered by prophetic word.]

Worship is out of this world and yet is present to us. The liturgical drama draws us out of sin and reminds us of the ransom paid that the human by itself cannot pay (Psalm 49) and more: the drama represents us in that act of redemption - us remembering that we are present at the Exodus; - we ourselves exit from the narrow straits of our lives into a spacious place, a promised land. Admittedly there are some wild places and a few enemies, even the possibility of exile. But the joy of the redeemed even in solitude (Psalm 3) is immeasurable and unspeakable. It cannot be controlled by hierarchy nor is it taken away by any human force, doctrinal, or administrative. But why is it not taught and effected through the churches rather than in spite of their example?

Well - I will pass away from fearful Jerusalem, from that small hill and move back to the psalm of joy, Psalm 63, the psalm of the foxes, just prior to the harvest sequence (65-67).

Here are the last three verses
וְהֵמָּה לְשׁוֹאָה יְבַקְשׁוּ נַפְשִׁי
יָבֹאוּ בְּתַחְתִּיּוֹת הָאָרֶץ
and they of ruin who seek my being
let them go to the nethermost parts of the earth
יַגִּירֻהוּ עַל יְדֵי חָרֶב
מְנָת שֻׁעָלִים יִהְיוּ
they will be spilled by the hand of a sword
a portion of foxes they will be
וְהַמֶּלֶךְ יִשְׂמַח בֵּאלֹהִים
יִתְהַלֵּל כָּל הַנִּשְׁבָּע בּוֹ
כִּי יִסָּכֵר פִּי דוֹבְרֵי שָׁקֶר
but the king will be glad in God
everyone swearing by him will praise
for the mouth of those speaking falsehood will be stopped
You might want to read this next bit carefully. It is an excursus from the heart of the book.

What is the portion of foxes? We begin with Song 2:15:
Catch the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, 
for our vineyards are in flower. 

What have foxes to do with the Song? The word occurs seven times in the Hebrew Scripture. The vineyard in the Song is the place where the lovers live and work. One may be forced to keep the vineyards of others and not able to keep one’s own (Song 1 v6). The Beloved is like a vineyard (Song 1 v14). The foxes spoil the vineyard, the place of love (Song 7 v12). Spoil has also the sense of ownership as if the vineyards were taken in pledge. One may have many such vineyards but in the end it is:
 My vineyard that is mine is facing me. (Song 8 v11,12) 

Vineyard is a frame for the whole poem. How then will I tend it? Psalm 63 gives us an answer to that question. From the diligence of the seeking early to the recognition of foxes. While the enemies of Israel are round about, and can be interpreted as foxes, the troubles of a life are closer than geography. In the Song, the foxes (shu`alim) occur twice in one verse and the Shulamite twice in one verse. This too can be seen as a frame for the poem around the word of peace (shalom). The beloved herself must learn to care for her own vineyard and must not be like a fox.

Twice only is fox referred to in the NT, the king Herod is such (Luke 13:32) and the foxes are said to have holes while the son of man has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58, Matthew 8:20). The reading of the foxes as political enemies around Israel requires the reading of Israel as the beloved of the Song. How is the vineyard of the son of man to be kept from the fox?
And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, 
Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and tomorrow, 
and the third [day] I shall be perfected. 

The perfection achieved is sufficient to the task of catching the foxes (or perhaps the less cute and more historically accurate jackals) and bringing them to peace (shalom). Therefore let it be that one read the Song both individually and corporately, both as a love song of the time and as a love song for the present, both as a song of the Beloved for his people then (Isaiah 5:1) and for the 24 elders who sing the new song now and in the time to come (Revelation 5:9). But let it be that nothing be lacking.

The fox is one who brings trouble to the lovers. The trouble cannot be sufficient to destroy love. For Love is strong as death, jealousy hard as Sheol, its coals are coals of the flaming fire of יָה (Song 8 v6). The grave is overcome by the one who gave his life for the life of the world. So the foxes are caught in order that the Shulamite might learn to lean on her Beloved and not on her own strength, nor even on the forceful orders of her brothers.
Daughters of Jerusalem, 
this is my beloved and this is my companion, 
he is all sweetness (Song 5 v16 paraphrased). 

How can we possibly introduce this wonder to the next generation? How is it that God should entrust the gift to such a insubstantial container. For the very young introduce letter and word games. For the youth who is certain, goads and puzzles: how does 7 fit into 1? (See George Herbert’s poem, Easter, I got me flowers, and Genesis 2:4.) For the ancient jade who missed out on being young or certain, an invitation to a slight madness and some of the same lessons that the very young can take, like the repeated use of כִּי טוֹב reflecting Genesis 1 and the goodness of creation.

But what of the leader and the hierarchy and the encrusted self-interest of the establishment ruled by silver and fearful responsibility?

Self-protection has no part in the Song. Nor is there a hierarchy. The commandment is to Catch the foxes. That will require subtlety. It has, by the way, nothing to do with catching 'offenders'. Don't slip back into an old way of thinking. It has to do with that unspeakable redemption - again in the psalms, Psalm 32, but it may require a little shame, a little sojourn in the nethermost parts of the earth.
לְדָוִד מַשְׂכִּיל
אַשְׁרֵי נְשׂוּי פֶּשַׁע
כְּסוּי חֲטָאָה
Of David, an insight
happy transgression borne away
sin covered
אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם
לֹא יַחְשֹׁב יְהוָה לוֹ עָוֹן
וְאֵין בְּרוּחוֹ רְמִיָּה
happy the human
to whom יהוה will not reckon iniquity
and without deceit in his spirit
I told you - you might not understand this. But understanding is stasis compared to walking with balance and being known in doing the right thing. What is the right thing? Let your yes be yes and your no, no. And Little children, stay away from idols. And learn from the One who teaches humanity knowledge.

Bob, what brought this on?

Let's see if the armies of Sennacherib withdraw. I have more an approach to a problem space than a set of answers. But when someone else's approach to a problem space results in coercive behaviour, I think the authority has lost its moorings. This goes for anyone in a position of authority, business leader, political leader, or bishop.  The conclusion I am under is that violence and the will to power are at best under limited control through policy. The Gospel is transformation and wholeness, power and self-control. And even the limited control of policy must engage the body to which it is delivered and cannot be applied through coercion. The Torah is to be loved.