Tag Archives: Information

Tribal Stories & Ballads

Tribal Stories & Ballads (CaD Ps 105) Wayfarer

Remember the wonders he has done,
    his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…

Psalm 105:5 (NIV)

I have a couple of short stories in my possession that were written by my great-aunt. They tell the stories of her father and her paternal grandmother, which would make them my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandmother. They are pretty amazing stories that would be lost to history were it not for them having been researched, written, and handed down.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Wendy and I are asking questions about the distraction of having more information at our fingertips at any moment of our day than was available in all the libraries in all the world when we were children.

As I read through the ancient Hebrew song lyrics, that we know as the Psalms, one thing it’s easy to lose sight of was the fact that the very act of having a written record of the lyrics was an arduous task. Very few people could read or write, and very few people had the means with which to have the materials necessary to write things down and archive them. In that world, information was shared in stories around the fire at night which had been passed down through story-telling for generations. In that culture, songs became an important medium for sharing important stories of family and history.

The historic ballad is a well-established genre within music. When I was a kid, Gordon Lightfoot’s moody ballad The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald became an oddly popular song. I haven’t heard that song for years, but I remember the tune, a bunch of the lyrics, and the story it tells of a doomed freighter sinking in Lake Superior. I’ll link to it for those who’ve never heard it. Warning: It’s an earworm.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 105, is the same genre of song. It was written as a retelling of the story of the Hebrew people from a nomadic tribe, to slaves in Egypt, and their miraculous exodus out of slavery to become a nation. Songs can be sung and pondered while one works, by families and communities in social gatherings, by parents and children at bedtimes. It was a critical way of telling and re-telling the important stories of a person, a family, events, tribes and nations. To know and remember the song is to have the story always on the tip of your tongue waiting to be shared and passed along to others.

If you’ve been following along on this chapter-a-day journey, you know that Wendy and I have spent much of the past month in quarantine with our children and grandson. As most families do, we regularly find ourselves wandering down memory lane, sharing stories, and reliving events of our familial journey together. I’ve watched Milo and thought about the fact that he’ll be one (among others, I hope!) who will one day be sharing the stories of our tribe.

As I’ve been meditating on how technology is forming us, I’ve thought about the difference between information and knowledge, between data and understanding. In a world in which all the information of our lives can be digitally stored and accessed, I wonder if we’re at risk for losing out on the intimacy of generational storytelling, the experience of a tribe singing their shared story in song, and the understanding that comes from the weaving of both the data and relationship with the deliverer.

My mind wanders back to those short stories written by my great-aunt. I hear her voice as I read those words. While I never met my great-grandfather or my great-great-grandmother, I knew Aunt Nita. She was a living, breathing, loving conduit connecting me to the stories of my tribe, and that layers the stories with added emotion and understanding. I hope that those stories get passed along, not just through bytes of information consumed conveniently on a screen at will, but through love and relationship.

I guess if that’s my desire, then it’s also my responsibility.

Creation Contemplation

Creation Contemplation (CaD Ps 104) Wayfarer

May my meditation be pleasing to him,
    as I rejoice in the Lord.
Psalm 104:34 (NIV)

Among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, we’ve been asking a lot of questions about distractions and attachments. Primarily, we’re asking ourselves some introspective questions regarding just how attached we are to our phones, tablets, and screens. And, how do those screens and the how the limitless amount of information and entertainment, literally at our fingertips, is forming us. While it might be easy to perceive this as some religious Luddite rail against technology, it’s really an attempt to ask some very sincere, personal questions about time, thought, habits, distractions, and Spirit.

Yesterday our Scottish crew (still stranded by COVID in America) was discussing the fact that back home in Edinburgh they would be spending a lot more time outside in the more temperate winter climate of the UK. Here in the snow and midwest deep-freeze of Iowa (-2 F this morning), that’s just not an enjoyable possibility. So there’s been a tremendous amount of screentime for the wee one as four adults try to work.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 104, is ancient Hebrew song of praise. The theme is the wonder of creation, and this is a great song for anyone who is fed spiritually by being out in nature. What is it that feeds your awe and wonder of the natural world? I know for a lot of people it’s the mountains. For me, it’s always been water. I love being on a ship out on the ocean, a sailboat, or even sitting on the dock in the morning at the lake. There is something spiritual and life-giving to sit in the quiet, to take it in, and to have undistracted time to think, ponder, dream, and meditate.

What’s really cool about Psalm 104 is the thought with which the songwriter structured his lyrics. This is obvious to the casual reader, but when you break it down, it’s really genius. It’s structured like concentric circles moving out from the center (like the expanding universe?), and as the stanzas move out from the center they are connected thematically:

Praise

Three Verses: Celebrating the celestial world above the earth

Five Verses: The earth’s foundations and boundaries

Nine Verses: The diversity and abundance of life on earth

Five Verses: The earth’s cycles and rhythms

Three Verses: Celebrating the nautical world below the earth

Praise

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning… (Actually, it wasn’t quiet. I had a three-year-old watching a YouTube of Transformer toys on my lap.)… I couldn’t help but think about the thought the songwriter put in to not only write a song about creation, but also craft it so that the whole song’s structure was another layer of metaphor that speaks to the design, order, and structure of the universe.

There is something so beautiful in this that was worth my time this morning with which to sit and meditate. It motivated me to whisper my own quiet prayer of praise for creation that’s all around me.

I also couldn’t help but be reminded of these questions Wendy and I have been asking ourselves about the things to which we are attached, the things that distract us, and the limitless information and entertainment waiting for me there on the phone, the tablet, the television, and the laptop. I can go down the online rabbit hole so quickly and become immersed in a world of information that offers me little or no spiritual benefit.

Or, I can be mindful of making different choices. Which is what I’m endeavoring to do today.

I’ll Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow

hedgingWhat has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

There has been a lot of talk of late regarding the level of instability in the world. Just last Sunday our pastor, for the first time in his life, publicly declared that he personally believes that some things will continue to get worse and worse and that Jesus will return in the next 30-40 years.

This prompted some good conversations between Wendy and me over breakfast this week as we poured over the latest bad news from around the globe in the Wall Street Journal. I have heard predictions like the one our pastor made many times over the years by people I have considered both wise and intelligent as well as by those whom I’d consider to be fools. Jesus himself said that no one knows the day and the hour and that it will come suddenly “like a thief in the night.” I long ago gave up caring about this prediction or that prediction. I consider that, as the Teacher of Ecclesiastes my say, “chasing after the wind.” My only responsibility with regard to Jesus return, according to Jesus own teaching, is to be ready for it to happen. That, I am.

As for things being more violent and unstable in the world, I’m not sure I agree. Things are relatively unstable right now, and we’re all feeling it, but as a student of history I can think of several periods of world history that were both incredibly violent and incredibly volatile.  I believe that if you lived in Europe during the Inquisition you’d find life both violent and volatile because of what the Church was doing. The Middle Ages were extremely unstable and life was extremely violent (they didn’t call them the “Dark Ages” for nothing), and coincidentally, Jesus followers of that day were equally convinced, based on how bad things were, that Jesus’ return was imminent. I think our current generation has already forgotten how unstable and violent the world was during the World Wars of the previous century.

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

Some things have changed and there are some things that are unprecedented in human history. Population, for one. There are more people experiencing these things than ever before. Technology and communication are also giving this generation experiences that no generation before has had. I believe that our perception and emotional reaction to world events is greater today because we have instant access to photos and video of every horrific international incident being pushed into the palm of our hands 24/7/365. I believe that our culture is experiencing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety because technology and media is bombarding our eyes and brains with images and first hand reports of every tragedy around the globe. It’s bound to have an effect.

This morning I am pondering the Teacher’s ancient words in light of living in circumstances that he couldn’t even fathom when he wrote them nearly three thousand years ago. Some things don’t change. There are some things that we as humans repeat over and over and over again like a squirrel in a wheel. Other things change greatly. Predicting the future is a risky proposition and getting overly anxious about tomorrow is something that even Jesus to us not to do:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So, I’m focused on today and walking the path laid right in front of me. Today I will live and love to the best of my ability right here in the place I am in and the place God has me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 1

source: Michael M Kenny via Flickr

Jesus replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know.” Acts 1:7 (NLT)

One of the more difficult aspects of going through a divorce is the struggle to know when to speak, and when to be silent, with your children. This is especially true when they are teenagers. Seven years ago, as I walked that painful stretch of my own journey, I found two easy temptations with regard to talking to my girls.

First, I discovered the temptation to say too much because the breakdown of the marriage is affecting them so acutely and I wanted desperately want to provide some reason, understanding, and context. Second, I recognized the subtle, self-centered temptation within myself to want the girls to take, or at least to understand, my side of the story. What teenagers, in their stalwart belief that they are both fully mature and completely omniscient, fail to understand is that information without context, knowledge, wisdom, and discernment can become both a burden and a curse. It is said that ignorance is bliss, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes it is the very least appropriate for the situation. 

As children, we often feel that we have a need to know things. We will even go so far as to think that we have a right to know certain things. We live in a culture steeped in First Amendment rights and the Freedom of Information Act coupled with an almost instantaneous access to any piece of arcane trivial information you could desire. People even publicly post the most mundane and salacious facts about themselves on Facebook and Twitter. Television programming projects an endless hunt for the most juicy, private personal gossip about celebrities 24/7/365. It is no wonder that we feel so entitled to know so much about so many.

I found it interesting in today’s chapter that Jesus deflected some of his followers’ questions. Father God knows things we don’t know. He holds certain things close to the vest, and as His children we are all on a need-to-know basis. For some children, this seems terribly unfair, unjust and spurs fits of childish rage and rebellion. Personally, I find comfort in the fact that He’s got it under control and I can trust Him with that. Someday, when I’m ready and it’s appropriate, He’ll perhaps share some things with me. Perhaps by that time it won’t really matter. Until then, I can let it go and experience the freedom that comes from not having to know certain things.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 8

Information overload. "If you're going to worry, worry about The Holy. Fear God-of-the-Angel-Armies." Isaiah 8:13 (MSG)

I used to be a news junkie.  I couldn't get enough of it. The 24 hour news stations were always on my television. The car radio was always tuned to news and talk radio. I scoured the newspaper daily and religiously. Somewhere along the line I changed. It's not that I don't want to be informed, I just stopped feeling the need to be inundated with it.

My mind is finite. My time and energy are limited. In the same way I have to make choices about what I eat and how much food I will put into my body, I also have to make choices about what I think about and how much information I will try to cram into my brain. We live in the information age. What used to be contained in a Library the size of a city block can now fit in a microchip inside of a cell phone in our pocket. Yet, all of the information on all of the media sources on every channel of my satellite television will never make me wise.

I still watch the news. I still read the paper. I do want to be knowledgeable, but more than anything I want to be wise. You can't find wisdom in the newspapers, run across it on a Google search, or hear it from talking heads on a news channel. God is the source of wisdom. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to that source. 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and dylanroscover