Tag Archives: Blues

The Thirst and the Why

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Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?

Psalm 42: 5 (NRSVCE)

I was in a mentoring session with a client. I had coached this individual for a number of years when he was a front-line agent. Now he was in his first managerial role. He’d just received his first annual performance review as a manager and was spiraling downward into full emotional meltdown. Why? Because his boss had rated him a “4” out of 5 in overall performance.

It was obvious to me that my protégé needed to vent. The review had been given a few weeks before our session and I was aware that he had been waiting for our session to get things out. In the emotional flood of anger, frustration and shame that followed I was noticed a few things. First, it was clear that my protégé knew his weaknesses, and admitted there were things he could have done better. Second, the monologue rabbit trailed into childhood memories, family system issues from adolescence, and then projected issues in the current workplace. Third, we had been here before.

The emotional monologue began to wane after about thirty minutes. I then asked if I could ask a question and make an observation. My question was: “If I was your boss, and you freely admitted to me this handful of areas you know needed improvement, then why on earth would I give your performance a five out of five? Given the things you told me you needed to work on, I think four might be a generous vote of confidence!”

There was no immediate answer.

I then proceeded with my observation. Back in the days when I first coached my protégé on the service quality of his phone calls, there were times that he would be emotionally distraught when our team had marked him down for service skills he should have demonstrated, but didn’t. At one point, I remember tears being shed out of the intensity of emotion, and the exclamation “Every call should score 100!”

My protégé laughed as led him on this trek down memory lane, and my point was obvious. There was something within him that expected, personally demanded, a perfect score on any test, assessment, or evaluation that drove him to illogical and emotional ends despite cognitively recognizing the quality of his work didn’t match.

“Why do I always do this?” he asked.

Now, we’d gotten to the question the might lead to real improvement.

The chapter-a-day journey kicks off with the second “book” or section in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics known as Psalms. The section begins with songs written for a choir called “The Sons of Korah.” They were a family choir with the Hebrew tribe of Levi whom King David had appointed to sing in the temple. Those who compiled Psalms began the second book with seven songs that were ascribed for this choir. Seven, by the way, is almost always a significant number in the Great Story. It’s a metaphor for completeness.

Today’s song is a personal lament. The writer is struggling with “Why?” they are in such a funk, and why they can’t get out of it. They are singing the blues and struggling with why their soul is in the pit of despair even as they repeatedly choose to keep singing, keep trusting, and keep seeking after God. The song begins with the proclamation, “my soul thirsts for God.”

And, that’s what struck me this morning. It was the “thirst” for God that motivated the singing, praising, trusting, and seeking after the “Why?” It was the “thirst” for God that allowed them to not fall over the edge of despair but to keep seeking the answer to “Why do I feel this way?” even as they were in the tension of feeling it so acutely.

In the quiet this morning, I thought of my protégé finally getting to his own version of “Why do I always feel this way?” As a mentor, my next question is “What are you thirsting for?” If it’s an easy stamp of approval to deceitfully appease your need for perfection then you’re never going to mature. If you’re thirsting after an understanding of who you are, why you’ve got yourself tied up into emotional knots, and what needs to happen within to stop this repetitive and unhealthy emotional pattern, then there’s hope for progress toward maturity and success.

“Based on the evidence of my own life, actions, words, and relationships am I really thirsting after God? What am I really thirsting for?”

“Am I holding the tension of choosing to praise, trust, seek even as I wrestle with my own versions of despair and my own questions of ‘Why’?”

Those are the questions I’m personally asking myself as I head into this day, and I’m going to leave it here.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Praise-to-Plea Ratio

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Great triumphs he gives to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his descendants forever.

Psalm 18:50 (NRSVCE)

I was just shy of middle school when the classic rock tandem We Will Rock You and We are the Champions came out. I’ll never forget playing them pretty much non-stop (Because they must be played together!). It became the song everyone broke into after winning a game of kick-ball on the playground or basketball during “Rec.”

As we’ve spent a couple of weeks now in our journey through Psalms, there’s definitely been a pretty strong blues theme in David’s lyrics. We’ve had the “Why me?” blues and the “How long?” blues. David has lamented sickness and hardship.

Reading Psalm 18 this morning there were two things that jumped out at me. First, it’s a long song compared to most of David’s ditties we’ve been read so far.

Second, the theme of this psalm is not the blues but David’s own version of We are the Champions. The liner notes of the song state that David wrote this song after a victory of his enemies and, in particular, his royal predecessor Saul who had been relentlessly trying to kill David for a long time.

What is different between King David’s ancient victory anthem and Queen’s contemporary victory anthem is where the attribution lies in the triumph. Queen’s anthem is all ego, bravado, and self-congratulation. David, however, spends 50 verses giving God credit for basically everything in his life: his life, the battles he’s won, the times he’d escaped his enemies, deliverance from calamities, all the blessings of his life, his strength, his royal position, his successful navigation of political strife, and the blessings of his family. David gives all the credit to God.

So that has me thinking this morning about my own attitude and conversations with God. I’m really good at reaching out to God when I’m singing the blues. When times are tough and life is not going my way, I’m quick to bend God’s ear with my frustrations, exasperation, confusion, and needs.

But what about the good things in my life? What about the countless ways I have been and am blessed? My life journey reads like a dream in so many ways. Great family, great place to live, great education, great community, great friends, good health, and a great job. God has been so good to me. How often do I stop to give credit where credit is due? The blessing in my life far outweighs the struggles in my life, and I’m asking myself in the quiet this morning: Does my praise and gratitude to God outweigh my self-centered pleas when I’m singing the blues?

David’s “Why Me?” Blues (Psalm 7): 17 verses long.

David’s “How Long?” Blues (Psalm 13): 6 verses long.

David’s victory anthem today giving God all the credit: 50 verses long.

That’s a “praise” to “plea” ratio of 2:1.

I think the ratio in my conversations with God are honestly opposite that.

I need to fix that.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

The “How Long?” Blues

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalm 13:1 (NRSVCE)

Along my journey, I have come to observe that there is a natural ebb and flow to life. It’s like the Sage of Ecclesiastes pointed out. Time and seasons for everything. There are times of plenty, and times of want. There are times when everything seems to be going my way, and times when every circumstance seems stacked against me.

Back in Psalm 11, David penned that “the upright behold [God’s] face” and I mentioned in my post that day that the notion of seeing a King’s face was a metaphor in the ancient Near East which meant that you had the king’s attention and favor. David used the metaphor to close that psalm with the faithful assurance that God would come through.

What a stark contrast. In today’s Psalm David begins by asking God how long he will hide his face from David. If holding the King’s face is his favor, then the King hiding his face means just the opposite. Today’s psalm seems to be David’s cry to God during one of those stretches of the journey when nothing is going right.

The contrasting metaphor remind me of the way I thought of life as a child. If things seemed to be be going my way, then I assumed that I had been good and God was blessing me. When things weren’t going well then I assumed I had done something wrong and God was punishing me. It took me a long time to see what a self-centered perspective that really was, as if everything in life is about me. Jesus said that if I want to find Life then I have to lose it, including the surrender of a childish notion that I am at the root of every circumstance.

Back in Psalm 7, I pointed out that David was singing the “Why Me?” Blues. Today’s song can just as easily be entitled the “How Long?” Blues. And, I think that’s the point as I meditate on it this morning. What makes the blues such a powerful music genre is that it resonates with and expresses the cries of my heart when life’s road gets rough, as it does for all of us.

Along the way, I’ve learned that the road is going to have its ups and its downs. There are going to be good times and bad. It may not be about me, but it’s certainly for me if I’m willing to learn what each stretch of the journey has to teach me about faith, gratitude, perseverance, joy, praise, growth, humility, blessing, trust, and maturity. And, when the road seems like a hard slog and my petulant inner child feels like God has hidden His face from me, I can always sing the “How Long?” Blues in which David begins with lament but ends with a refrain of trust and a reminder of God’s goodness despite the struggle.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

“Get it Out, Little Dude”

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I am weary with my moaning;
    every night I flood my bed with tears;
    I drench my couch with my weeping.

Psalm 6:6 (NRSVCE)

This past week I was in the dentist’s chair. Neither Wendy nor I had braces when we were young, and we both have some dental issues as a result, so we’re finally pulling the trigger on doing Invisalign and doing it together. So if my voice sounds a little strange on my podcast for the next year, know that it’s because all of my teeth are wrapped in plastic!

Anyway, my dentist and I got into an interesting conversation that started when he asked me how long I’ve been doing this chapter-a-day blog. I don’t think he expected to hear that it has been fourteen years! We then proceeded to talk about some short posts that he has been writing and posting on social media, which I’ve been reading and enjoying very much. He then shared with me that he found himself with these things he was feeling and thinking that he “had to get out.” I couldn’t help think of the prophet Jeremiah when used the metaphor of the message God was giving him being a “fire shut up in my bones” that just has to get out.

Today’s chapter, another song lyric by King David, is one of the examples I have used when I tell people that the psalms read like the blues. I’m sure that the ancient music didn’t sound anything like the blues, but I’m quite certain that Robert Johnson or Jonny Lang would identify with David’s spirit and could do something amazing with the same lyrics.

In both the cases of my dentist, and King David, the same theme has contrasting lessons to teach. Sometimes, there is stuff inside that I’ve just got to get out. With the former, there is something positive inside that needs to come out because others need to hear it, learn from it, be inspired, encouraged, or comforted by it. In the latter case, there is negative energy shut-up within that needs to be exorcised and expressed so that it can’t do spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational damage that always occurs when I suppress and hold in my shame, loneliness, fear, anxiety, anger, pain, frustration, grief, hurt, [insert your own negative emotion here].

Wendy and I are opposites when it comes to handling negative emotions. As an Enneagram Eight, Wendy tends to explode with volcanic eruptions of emotion that often run hot like lava. But she exorcises those emotions quickly and then quickly settles and becomes solid rock again. As an Enneagram Four, I tend to broodingly hold the negative emotions as they boil and churn deep in my heart until daily life begins to tremor and toxic fumes start seeping out in my words and actions. It sometimes takes Wendy, or one of my close companions, to consciously drill down with me in order to release the crap that needs to be released.

Along my life journey, I’ve both experienced in myself and observed in others the tragic consequences of suppressing and holding in the toxic shit that builds up as we walk through life and relationship. I love David’s lyrical laments because they remind me of two things. First, I need to get out the crap I’m feeling even though it might be negative, raw, and even toxic. Better to get it out than to let it wreak havoc in my life. Second, God is not surprised by nor worried about my emotional crap any more than I am worried when my two-year-old grandson goes into full-tilt tantrum mode for the silliest of reasons. I totally believe that God looks at me in full tantrum mode and says the same thing to me that I’d say to Milo: “Get it out, little dude. Then take a nap. You’ll feel better.”

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Papa’s Got the Blues

As our daughters grew up, I wanted them to appreciate all kinds of art and music. My own musical tastes run the gamut and I’ve found that every genre has a place in the soundtrack of my life journey, if even for a moment. I wanted that for them, as well.

As the girls grew I started making compilation CDs for them. I wanted to pass on a few of the things I learned and appreciated about my favorite genres of music, expose them to a few of the classic artists and songs, as well as share with them a few of my favorite tunes and how they connect to my life. It’s still an unfinished project. I have two or three CDs still on my task list to compile for them.

Most of the time I simply wrote out some liner notes for the CD in which I shared a paragraph or two about every cut on the CD. When it came to my Blues compilation, I had been playing around with learning an eBook publishing app, so I thought it would be fun to experiment and turn my liner notes for the CD into a graphic eBook.

A few weeks ago Wendy and I were in Mexico for the wedding of her sister, Suzanna. Suzanna lived with Wendy and me for a few years as she finished high school. During her time with us, I had shared my blues compilation, Papa’s Got the Blues with her, as well. The night before her wedding she went out of her way to tell me she still had the CD and loved it.

So, that got me thinking that it might be a fun thing to post that others might also enjoy. So, Merry Christmas! Here you go. Be sure to download the eBook and follow along. If you have Spotify, you should be able to find the playlist and add it to your own set of playlists, if you so desire.

Happy listening! Cheers!

Who Will Sing for Me?

All Judah and Jerusalem mourned for Josiah. Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah, and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day. They made these a custom in Israel; they are recorded in the Laments.
2 Chronicles 35:24-25 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about lament anymore which is a reality that I, well, lament. Lament is a great word that can either be used as a noun or a verb. When used in its verb form, it means to grieve and feel sorrow or loss. When used in its noun form, it points to a particular expression of grief. In history a lament was typically a song or a poetic lyric used during periods of grief. It’s the ancient ancestor of the blues.

In today’s chapter, the Chronicler adds a curious detail to the death of Josiah that he has used with no other King in all the biographical accounts he’s provided in the previous 34 chapters. He explains that the prophet Jeremiah (an all-star prophet) had uttered a lament for Josiah and that the choirs of Judah had sung laments for Josiah even to the Chronicler’s day. Generations later, they felt Josiah’s loss and continued to sing the blues.

This morning in the quiet the Chroniclers detail brought to mind an old-timey bluegrass ballad called Who Will Sing for Me? It’s got me thinking and meditating on the idea that how we live our daily lives in the present will affect how others will feel our loss when this earthly journey is over. How interesting that Josiah was lamented, but the Chronicler didn’t say that of Asa, or Manasseh, or Hezekiah. Josiah was lamented for generations.

As I begin this week I’m enter into the task list asking myself how I’m living this journey and what kind of difference I’m making. It has me mulling over a simple question in the back of my head: Who Will Sing for Me?

Lester? Earl? Take it away…

Have a great week, my friend. Live well.

 

Music for the Road Trip

English: 1976 Mercury Colony Park station wago...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
    that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Psalm 120:5 (NIV)

When I was a kid, our family of six made regular road trips to northwest Iowa to visit my grandparents, and each year we made our annual vacation trek in the ol’ Mercury station wagon (complete with faux wood paneling). I can remember music always being a big part of the journey. In those days, the in dash eight-track cassette player boomed the songs of Simon and Garfunkel and the Carpenters from those tapes that were about the size of a pop tart twin-pack. By my teen years, the  tapes had gotten smaller and the music on those family road trips had switched to southern rock. By my college years, the Compact Disc had become the rage and the regular five hour road trip to and from school found me listening to a young Irish band called U2. Now, when I go on a business trip, I have my entire music library on a phone that is a fraction of the size of those old eight track tapes. I still make sure I have a good mix of music on a playlist ready for any trip.

Music for the journey is as old as mankind. The liner notes in the introduction of today’s psalm identifies it as a “song of ascents.” In ancient Jewish tradition, the center of worship was in Jerusalem on the temple mount. When people made a pilgrimage there, the songs of ascent were their music mix to sing along the way. The songs were intended to prepare their hearts to ascend to the temple and worship.

The songwriter identifies himself as living far from Jerusalem among foreign people. He is out of sorts and singing the blues. It struck a chord with me this morning as I sit in a hotel room far from home and prepare for a three hour road trip. There is a melancholy that sets in when your heart longs for home far away.

But, I’ve got my music with me and that is always a good thing.

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Refuge Amidst Rough Stretches of Life’s Path

Ubari Oasis in the Category:Wadi Al Hayaa Dist...
Ubari Oasis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Lord is good,
    a strong refuge when trouble comes.
    He is close to those who trust in him.
Nahum 1:7 (NLT)

Life’s journey takes each one of us through many different emotional terrains. Mountaintop passes offer breathtaking vistas. They are wonderful and inspiring, but the reality is that the path leading to the mountains usually contain long stretches of flat, barren plain in which each day seems much like the last, leaving you to wonder daily if you’re moving or making any progress at all. In contrast to the mountain tops, each life’s path eventually (often repeatedly) descends through dark valleys and rocky terrain that test our faith, will and perseverance.

We should not marvel at this. This is life. It’s a journey and a pilgrimage. If we don’t experience the emotional breadth of it, we’re not really living and making progress.

I have to be honest. I found today’s chapter to read like a dark valley through rocky terrain of anger, wrath, and judgment. I laughed to myself as I began to read. There’s no real reason why I picked the ancient prophet Nahum to start reading today. It has three chapters and there are three days left in the week. No big spiritual discernment in that choice. Still, the vitriol and dark words of judgement seem an emotional enmeshment for my own path in recent weeks. Just great. It’s not enough that I’ve got an acute case of the blues, I thought to myself, now God has to pile on.

Then, as I’m reading through the haunting words of Nahum’s message to Nineveh and groaning under the weight of my spirit, I run headlong into the verse above which sits nestled in the middle of a message of woe. An oasis of fresh living water in the midst of a desolate, barren wilderness. Just when we need it most, we find a life giving way-station for the soul. A message of refreshment. A reminder of the reality that if we have faith, God is a true place of refuge amidst the difficult stretches of our journey.

My Daily Cross Road Blues

Cross Road Blues
(Photo credit: bontxi)

Listen as Wisdom calls out!
    Hear as understanding raises her voice!
On the hilltop along the road,
    she takes her stand at the crossroads.
Proverbs 8:1-2 (NLT)

There was a collision in my head and heart this morning. Literary device and music legend met at the crossroads and slammed headlong into one another.

This morning’s chapter is amazing as Solomon anthropomorphizes (e.g. cloaks an impersonal concept in human form) wisdom. He morphs wisdom into a woman, no less, and juxtaposes her agains the harlot and adulteress described in the previous two chapters. Wisdom calls out, just as the adulteress did, but her message is all together different. While getting entangled with the harlot led to the grave, darkening Wisdom’s doorway ushers a person to life and God’s favor.

How fascinating that Solomon places Wisdom at the crossroads. Anyone with an elementary knowledge of the blues knows that it was at the crossroads where the folk story of blues pioneer Robert Johnson is rooted. The legend goes that at the crossroads Johnson met and sold his soul to the devil in exchange for making him a great blues player. He is known for some of the great songs we still recognize today such as Crossroads Blues and Sweet Home Chicago.

So it was this morning that I stood at the crossroads. I saw Wisdom standing there and heard her calling out, but there I witnessed Robert Johnson making a deal with the devil.

How many times in life do we find ourselves at the crossroads and hear competing voices calling our name, whispering in our ear, and laying before us a choice? How many times today will we find ourselves at the crossroads making a choice between Wisdom and her nemesis?

Robert Johnson sang “Went down to the crossroads, got down on my knee.”

To whom will I bow today at the crossroads?

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 44

English: Compact Disc player carousel for thre...

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Psalm 44:23 (NLT)

Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.

When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.

Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.

The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.

Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.