Tag Archives: Song

Songs of Assurance

Songs of Assurance (CaD Ps 121) Wayfarer

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1 (NIV)

One summer of high school my friend Neal and I found ourselves standing in the middle of a desert in Mexico. It was something like 117 degrees that day. There were several vans of youth along with a few cars making our way toward Acapulco when one of the vehicles had an issue. Our local guide stayed behind to wait for and deal with a mechanic and our youth pastor told Neal and me to stay with him. I remember thinking, “This has got to be one of the strangest moments of my life.”

I don’t remember being afraid, exactly. Our guide was a native who was more than capable of making sure we’d manage. Neal was a great companion to have if you’re stuck in the Mexican desert. He’s a walking stand-up comedian act and can make any circumstance entertaining. Nevertheless, this was well before cell phones and there were a lot of “What ifs….” that ran through my mind.

I thought about that afternoon as I read today’s chapter, Psalm 121. It’s another “Song of ascents” that pilgrims would sing on the road to Jerusalem as they made their way to one of the annual festivals. The rugged mountainous terrain around Jerusalem could be somewhat dangerous for pilgrims as thieves and robbers were common. There’s a reason Jesus used a man beaten by robbers in the parable of the Good Samaritan. His listeners would identify with that. It was a concern for any traveler in those days.

It’s helpful to read the lyrics of this song as you imagine yourself with a caravan of other pilgrims walking toward Jerusalem. In the distance you see Mount Zion and Solomon’s Temple which, for them, was God’s earthly residence. So, looking to the mountains and asking “Where does my help come from?” would have been associated with the destination of their pilgrimage. Being safe on the road, not getting injured, being protected from harm walking by day and camping outdoors at night, this song was a repeated proclamation of faithful assurance in their “coming and going” to and from Jerusalem.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded by the lyrics of this song that sometimes I need words of assurance and affirmation along this life journey. They don’t magically protect me from harm, but they do help me to keep fear, anxiety, and insecurity in check. They remind me of God’s faithfulness no matter my circumstances.

In our bedroom, Wendy and I have a piece of encaustic artwork I bought for Wendy this past Christmas. Three little birds stare at us when we get up each morning and when we lie down each night. Behind the artwork is another frame with the lyrics of a Bob Marley tune: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

“I rise up this morning, smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds perched by my doorstep.
Singing a sweet song, with a melody pure and true.
This is my message to you:
Don’t worry about a thing ’cause
Every little thing is gonna be alright.”

I’ve always thought the song to be Marley’s reggae riff on the same encouragement and affirmation Jesus gave to His followers:

“What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.”
Luke 12:6-7 (MSG)

Just like the Hebrew pilgrims singing Psalm 121, I have my Bob Marley psalm of assurance that reminds me both day and night.

(By the way, our afternoon stranded in the hot, Mexican desert sun was uneventful. Another van full of youth saw us by the road, pulled over to make sure we were okay, and handed us an ice-cold gallon of orange juice. Every little thing was alright.)

Songs With Purpose

Songs With Purpose (CaD Ps 120) Wayfarer

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

One summer of high school I got a job pollinating corn. It was the closest I got to working in agriculture. It was a hot, sweaty boring job walking through the fields. Each day I came home I was yellow from head to foot with corn pollen. I worked in the field with my friend Brian, and I will always remember it as the summer that I learned about work songs. Our crew would sing together as we worked and Brian, being a bit of natural comic, made-up work songs (think Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat song) for us to sing as we made our way through the tall rows of corn. I still remember one song…

We work all day, and we work all night.
Three-ninety hour, hey! And that’s all right!
Day-O! Day-O!
Work for the dolla, everybody holla!
Sing Day-O!

My ol’ lady say, she say, “Bring home da pay,
Don’t you be gamblin’ it all away!”
I say, “No way, I’m gonna bring home da pay.
No way! I’m going gamblin’ today!”

There’s more, but I’ll spare you the part about hoecakes and a septic tank. I’m sure you get the idea. What connected with me that summer was that certain songs have a specific purpose in the human experience.

What that silly experience taught me that summer was that creativity often flourishes amidst repetitive, monotonous physical labor. My body was doing this repetitive act and my brain needed something to do. To this day, I find that some of my best message preparation and creative inspirations come when I’m engaged in some repetitive, mindless, physical activities like taking a shower, mowing the lawn, or doing the dishes.

The other thing I learned is that singing together as we worked helped create a sense of camaraderie. I couldn’t see my friends and co-workers through tall, thick corn stalks. Singing together made me feel less alone and reminded me that everyone on my crew was in this thing together. It was a fun way to pass the time in a boring job.

With today’s chapter, Psalm 120, our chapter-a-day journey brings us to a series of songs with the liner note: “a song of ascents.” The ancient Hebrews had seasonal religious festivals that required them to make a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem where they would worship and make both sacrifices and offerings. It was a national thing, so large groups of people from villages and communities all over would travel together. And, since “pilgrimage” in those days meant hoofing it for miles and days for most people, they would pass the time by singing songs as they “ascended” towards Mount Zion and up the steps of the temple.

Today’s ancient Hebrew ditty is just a short song of lament in which the singer cries out to God to deliver him from being the victim of deceit. He feels stranded in his situation. When he says “I dwell in Meshek” (a far-away city north in Asia Minor) and “I live among the tents of Kedar” (a far-way city south in Arabia) he was metaphorically singing about feeling like he was in exile. Sort of like me saying, “I feel alone in a crowd.”

So why would one sing this song on pilgrimage? I can only speculate that the seasonal festivals were waypoints of the year in which one would focus on bringing to God both their gratitude and laments. Going to the festival and worshipping at the temple was the time for an individual to take care of business with God, even the business of feeling the victim of other people’s deceits.

In the quiet this morning, the chapter has me thinking once again about the powerful role that music plays in my worship, my work, my play, and my life. It has me thinking about the spiritual journey of Lent that I’m in, and how music might play a role in that in a way I’ve never thought about. What songs can help me focus on this virtual pilgrimage of spirit? What if I created a playlist specifically for this season with songs that help center my heart and mind? What songs should I put on that list, and why?

Questions of Justice

Questions of Justice (CaD Ps 82) Wayfarer

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
    uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Psalm 82:3 (NIV)

Earlier this year, as the world grappled with the inescapable footage of George Floyd dying under the knee of a police officer, Wendy called a family Zoom meeting. Each person shared their thoughts and emotions. Each person discussed what he/she felt personally led to do in the wake of the event. During that same time, Wendy and I had similar conversations among different circles of our close friends.

I haven’t forgotten those conversations. I’m not sure I ever will. As I approach the end of this tumultuous year and reflect on all that I’ve experienced, I’m mindful of those conversations about my responsibility, both as a follower of Jesus and as a responsible human being, for acting on my faith to make a difference in the lives of the poor, defenseless, and oppressed.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 82, is another liturgical song that was written to be sung when all of the Hebrew people gathered for worship. It’s fascinating for the fact that Asaph draws on a common religious metaphor found in the cultures of the Near East at that time; It’s the image of a divine assembly in a heavenly hall of justice. God is sitting in judgment of the assembled “gods.” In those days, rulers of both religion and society could be considered “gods” or “sons of god” because they were considered divine agents of their society and religion.

The voice of Asaph’s lyrics is that of a temple prophet. It’s the ancient Hebrew version of a protest song. He calls society’s leaders out for caring about the poor, needy, and oppressed. He reminds them that God, the ultimate, righteous judge, will render verdict on these societal “gods” for what they did for lowest members of society. He ends his short song of protest asking God to rise up and mete out justice.

Asaph’s lyrics make me think about Jesus. I think about Jesus’ teaching and example as He spent most of the time bringing love, healing, and grace to the fringes of society living on the outskirts of His country far away from the halls of societal power and justice. The civic and religious “gods” of Jesus’ day would eventually kill Him for it.

The words of Asaph’s song leave me sitting in the quiet this morning thinking about those conversations with family and friends from earlier this year. I’m pondering some of the things that I have consciously done as a result, as well as those things that I have left undone. My thoughts shift to the road ahead as the New Year approaches. I ask myself, “Do my actions make me more like Jesus, or do they make me more like the “gods” of Asaph’s metaphorical trial?”

I’m uncomfortable with the answer.

The Day the Music Died

The Day the Music Died (CaD Ps 72) Wayfarer

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.
Psalm 72:20 (NIV)

I have the Don McLean classic American Pie going through my head in the quiet this morning. It’s funny how songs connect to so many thoughts and feelings. The first verse stirs so many memories of being a paperboy at the age of 12. Frigid Iowa mornings being the first person to see the headlines, and trudging in the dark before dawn hand-delivering newspapers to the doorsteps up and down the block.

McLean’s lyrics go like this…

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance that I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

I think the inspiration for those words has already been lost to most people. As Mclean’s lyric reveals, it was an event that became known as “The Day the Music Died.” A small plane crashed in an Iowa field and tragically took the lives of three of the most popular rock-and-roll musicians of their day: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 72, isn’t as meaningful to the causal reader without understanding the context of both the song and its placement in the larger work we know as the book of Psalms. As I’ve mentioned before, this anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics was compiled by unknown editors. They’ve been lost in the fog of history, but they probably did their compilation sometime around the time the Hebrews were in Exile in Babylon about 500-600 B.C.

The editors didn’t just throw the songs together willy-nilly. There was tremendous thought put into themes, authorship, chronology, and how the individual songs fit into the larger whole. The Psalms are actually broken up into five sections we call “Books.” As I mentioned in yesterday’s post/podcast, we’ve come to the end of Book II with Psalm 72. Most all of the songs lyrics in the anthology, thus far, have been penned by King David. Yesterday’s lyrics revealed David’s thoughts and expressions near the end of his life.

The final song of Book II is an abrupt transition. The liner notes reveal that it is “of” Solomon or “for” Solomon (perhaps both/and), the youngest son of David and the offspring of Bethsheba (yep, the woman with whom he had a scandalous affair). Psalm 72 is a coronation song, meant to be used during the public rituals when a new king is crowned. As if the meaning of this song coming immediately after David’s aged reflections in Psalm 71, and the fact that we’re at the end of Book II, wasn’t clear enough, the anonymous editors of the anthology added a line at the end of the lyrics:

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

Old things pass away. New things come.

David, the warrior-king, God’s minstrel, has passed on.

It was “the day the music died” for the Hebrew people.

Psalm 72 reads like an idyllic vision of monarchy. Like an inauguration speech from a new President, it is full of hope for a new leader who will rule with justice, end poverty, end violence, provide for those in need, be esteemed by world leaders, and be forever established as God’s person for the job. The vision is so idyllic that both Hebrew scholars and early followers of Jesus viewed the metaphors as layered with meaning both as a national anthem for the newly crowned Solomon, and a prophetic vision of the coming and reigning Messiah.

In the quiet this morning, my Enneagram Four-ness can’t shake the melancholy (go figure). A little boy delivering newspapers in the cold, inspired in the grief of a terrible tragedy. In tragics deaths of an Iowa winter, a seed is planted in that little boy which will one day creatively spring to life in a new song that will mesmerize the music world for generations.

What a beautiful image of creation, of life, death, and new life. That’s the theme. That’s the theme of the Great Story.

Creation, Garden, Fall, Salvation.

Birth, life, death, new life.

A time and a season for all things under the sun.

Old things pass away. New things come.

As the Mandalorians in Star Wars would say: “This is the way.”

So, no matter where the journey finds you today, in joy or grief, in melancholy or happiness, take courage, my friend. The best is yet to come.

I have spoken. 😉

Muted By 2020

Muted by 2020 (CaD Ps 65) Wayfarer

You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
Psalm 65:11 (NIV)

I sincerely wonder if there’s an individual in America who isn’t ready to put 2020 behind us. It continues to be the strangest, most turbulent year the world has experienced during the stretch of my life journey. And, it’s not over, as we all know well. Which made this morning’s chapter, Psalm 65, feel almost incongruent.

The editors of the compilation of Hebrew song lyrics we call the book of Psalms put psalms 65-68 together. They are all psalms of “thanksgiving” and how ironic that this chapter-a-day journey has me wandering my way through them in the weeks leading up to our Thanksgiving holiday in America this year.

I have a confession to make this morning. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 65, I found that my weariness of current events make my heart cynical. My spirit is grumbling.

I read:

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.”

My heart cried, “yeah, like the production of viruses.”

I read:

You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.

My heart cried, “just not on the ledger sheet of my business this year.”

I read:

“The hills are clothed with gladness.”

My heart cried, “While I’m clothed with a mask.”

Along this life journey, I’ve learned that it’s critical for me to be conscious of the silent conversation my heart, soul, and mind are having with Life. That private inner dialogue is a leading indicator of the state of my spirit.

It isn’t doing so well this morning, and perhaps I needed Psalm 65 to both reveal my need, and provide me with the antidote.

One of the things I’ve done a little reading up on in the last year or so is that of resonance and frequency. I’ve learned that all matter constantly vibrates and emits sound waves at different frequencies. When two objects have a matching frequency they resonate.

I am hearing impaired because certain parts of my auditory system have died. When sound waves vibrating at particular frequencies reach my ears, they no longer resonate with me. I can’t hear those sound waves. Because the consonants in human speech (the hard sounds like a “t”, “g”, “b”, “s”) often vibrate at the frequencies my ears can’t hear, my brain scrambles to try and connect the combination of vowel sounds it heard (the “a”, “e”, “i”, “o,” and “u” which are frequencies my ears can hear) and figure out all the possibilities of the words you might have just said to me.

Welcome to Wendy’s world. By the way, if you’re wearing a mask it’s very likely I won’t understand 90-95% of your words. But, I will smile and nod and pretend I totally got it. I’m a trained actor.

My point is this. When David writes that the fields, the hills, and the valleys of creation shout and sing for joy, and when Jesus told his critics that the rocks would cry out and sing praise, they were correct. Creation is constantly vibrating, shouting out their frequencies in songs we simply don’t hear with our human ears. All of God’s creation continually sings its praise. And here’s the thing…

The coronavirus doesn’t stop the song.
Masks don’t stop the song.
Political rhetoric won’t stop the song.
Social media can’t stop the song.
My personal circumstances have no effect on the song.

Creation has no choice but to sing the creators praise. Only I have that freedom of will.

In a few weeks, Vander Well manor will welcome family for Thanksgiving dinner. The majority of family members present have already survived their bouts with COVID. We will feast, we will love, and we will give thanks. A few weeks later, I will hug my grandson for the first time in a year. God willing, our daughters and sons will be home together from the distant locations they call home. It will be the first time everyone will have been in our home together since Garrett joined our family and became our son. My heart will vibrate with joy. My mouth will offer praise and thanks.

I have written before about the Chain Reaction of Praise. In the quiet this morning I realized something important. I, as a follower of Jesus, am told to “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think I’ve allowed 2020 to mute my thanks and muffle my praise like one big, thick spiritual surgical mask.

I hear you fields. I’m listening rocks. You don’t have a choice.

I do.

Hey God? Praise you. I’m so thankful you can hear me through my mask.

Guernica

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Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me!

Psalm 35:1 (NRSVCE)

In January of 1937, Pablo Picasso was commissioned to do a painting for his native Spain to be displayed in the Spanish pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair. His initial sketches for the project show very little difference from the theme of his other works at that time.

On the 26th of April, Nazi German and Italian Fascist air forces bombed the town of Guernica, Spain at the request of Spanish Nationalists who desired to strike against their Spanish political rivals in the region. According to local accounts, it was market day and most of the villagers were gathered in the town center when the bombs began to fall. In his diary, the commander of the Nazi squadron recorded that the town was still burning the following day. It was utterly destroyed. There were no military targets in the area. Guernica was the most ancient town and the cultural center of the Basque region. It was a terror attack designed to wipe out political rivals.

Guernica in Ruins after 1937 bombing

On May 1, Picasso read eyewitness accounts of the attack. He immediately abandoned his original ideas for his commission and began to work. The 25.5 foot wide and 11.5 foot tall painting, entitled Guernica, was finished in 35 days. Containing images of the suffering of people and animals wrought by violence and chaos, the painting prominently displays a gored horse, a bull, screaming women, dismemberment, and flames. Picasso painted it in black and white using a specially requisitioned matte house paint that was void of any gloss to give it the feeling of a black and white photograph recording a moment in time. Guernica is considered among the most moving and powerful paintings of all time.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

I find today’s chapter, Psalm 35, among the most unique songs David ever wrote. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, David’s life is quite a story. He had a lot of enemies throughout his life. There were military enemies from neighboring regions who wanted him dead. There were also internal enemies everywhere he turned. His own King wanted him dead, and therefore all of Saul’s political allies were against David. David’s own son rebelled against him, turned David’s political allies against him, and led an armed rebellion against him. David’s life journey was not an easy road.

Psalm 35 is David pouring out his emotions to God in song. You can almost feel the desperation as he begs God to take up his cause. Surrounded by those who want his life on every side, and betrayed by friends and family who he loved, David begs God to take up his cause. He pours out his soul in raw anger at his enemies, asking God to destroy them. It is not an easy read.

What do artists do in response to powerful forces beyond their control? They create. They channel and express their emotions, even their most raw, painful, and socially unacceptable emotions, into their creative work.

One of the things that I love about the Psalms is the diversity of them. David wrote liturgical, religious songs for corporate worship events. David wrote the blues when he was down. David wrote songs of intense joy when he was delivered. David wrote songs of intense contrition when faced with his tragic flaws. David wrote songs of intense anger when enemies outside his control were closing in all around him.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about our emotions. Emotions can have significant negative consequences when they lie hidden, suppressed, and ignored within us. Finding healthy ways to get out my negative emotions has been one of the greatest lessons of my life journey. Many people think of God as a strict moral judge who will be shocked and punish us for expressing our “negative emotions.” I don’t find God to be that at all. Like David, I find God to be a loving creator who is not shocked, dismayed, or surprised by any of my emotions – even the negative ones. I can cry, scream, rail, and vent to God, who is Love incarnate, because love is patient, kind, and gracious.

I imagine God listening to David’s angry rant of a song, that we now call Psalm 35. I imagine David getting to the end and being almost out of breath from the pouring out of his emotions. I imagine God smiling and saying, “There. Nice. Feel better?”

Sui Generis

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Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psalm 33:3 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I attended worship with our local gathering of Jesus followers on Sunday. We’ve been sitting at home watching the live steam most Sundays since March. There are three spaces set aside for worship with proper space for physical distancing. The music and teaching are streamed from the main space to the other two. The auditorium that is where we usually call home is one of the spaces in which the live worship is streamed.

We walked in and sat down. I knew we were a minute or two late, so I was surprised when we weren’t greeting with the usual decibel level of worship music. It took me a second to realize that while the video of the worship music was live, the audio wasn’t being successfully streamed from the other room. Everyone sat and waited for our faithful tech volunteers to figure out the problem.

What struck me as we waited was that there were individuals already standing in anticipation of singing, clapping, and participating in corporate worship. I stood with them. Most people were sitting quietly while we waited. When the problem was fixed and the audio began to stream, everyone who was sitting immediately stood without prompt. People began to sing. Some people raised their hands in prayer. It was like the worship version of a Lamborghini accelerating from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds.

The thing that struck me in that moment was the feeling that everyone wanted to sing. There was a feeling of hunger to be there, to worship corporately with others and to sing, pray, and shout in praise and supplication.

Today’s psalm was most likely a song written for ancient corporate worship. If you step back and look at it, the “voice” of the lyrics lends itself to the first three verses being sung by a worship leader calling everyone to worship. Verses 4-19 could very well have been for a choir or select group to then instruct through song about God’s power, sovereignty, and goodness to protect and deliver those who place, in Him, their faith and trust.

The voice of verses 20-22 switch to a corporate “our” and could likely have been for the entire crowd gathered to sing in response to pledge their faith and trust.

There is something unique about a corporate worship experience when those gathered are not just going through ritualistic motions but are truly pouring out from their spirits their gratitude, praise, pain, need, faith, and desire.

Sui generis (pronounced soo-ee jen-er-is) is a latin term meaning “of its own kind.” Usually used as a legal term, its broader definition is something that is “unique” and in a “class by itself.” I once heard it used of certain worship experiences when a crowd of individuals begin to worship and, sui generis, a powerful whole emerges from the many. From many voices one voice. From many spirits one spirit. When it happens it is truly sui generis.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about worship, prayer, and praise. I’m grateful for technology that has allowed Wendy and me to join with our fellow Jesus followers through YouTube during the pandemic. Jesus assured His followers that He would always be present when “two or three are gathered” in His name. Wendy and I have enjoyed some really wonderful moments in our worship gatherings via YouTube. I am also grateful to join with others in one place and pour out our hearts and praise just as people have been doing for thousands of years like when Psalm 33 was introduced to the Hebrew people as a “new song” to corporately proclaim God’s protection and deliverance.

Of Storms and Shelter

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The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

Psalm 29:10 (NRSVCE)

Just a few weeks ago the people of Iowa learned a new vocabulary word: derecho. The straight-line wind storm with hurricane-force winds blew through the state and caused an amazing amount of damage. We had friends who were without power for several days. I’m fortunate that our little town was on the southern tip of the storms and we were largely spared from the brunt of the damage. I did find myself running around our neighborhood chasing garbage and recycling bins that were getting blown around the street, which was fun.

There is something about the power of nature that both reminds us how powerless we are, and reminds us of Power greater than ourselves. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome and said:

...from the creation of the world, the invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible, such as his eternal power and transcendence. He has made his wonderful attributes easily perceived, for seeing the visible makes us understand the invisible.

Whether it’s standing in awe of the mountains, the ocean, a beautiful sunset, or the ominous threat of a midwest thunderstorm, humanity has always made a connection between the creation we interact with around us and the Creator.

Today’s psalm is a fascinating departure from the repeated song writing pattern I mentioned yesterday. It might be argued that David is describing a derecho-like storm as it blows in over the raging seas of the Mediterranean, blows down cedar trees in the forest of Lebanon, thunders its way south as David stands on the ramparts of Jerusalem and sees the black clouds flashing with God’s pyrotechnic lightning display. The storm moves south into the wilderness and David meditates on the display of the overwhelming power of creation he has witnessed. He finishes the song in wonder of the God of Creation who is the source behind, and enthroned over, such an awesome presentation of intense force.

In the quiet this morning as I write this post, I have very specific memories of storms I’ve witnessed, storms I’ve been in, and storms I survived. I’m actually surprised at how many specific memories I can access from my brain’s hard-drive. Amazing.

It’s a good reminder that along this life journey I am bound to have storms blow through. And not just tornados. There are the storms of relational conflict, sickness, financial loss, unforeseen tragedies, pandemics…there will always be powerful forces I don’t control that will affect my life. I’m reminded that on Wednesday, David’s lyric reminded me that

…[God] will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble

Growing up in Iowa, I learned very early in life that it’s important to make sure you always have shelter from the storm.

That lesson is layered with meaning that has nothing to do with the weather.

The Feed

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I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I typically spend the start of our day together. We meet over coffee, a blueberry-spinach smoothie (mine is sweet; Wendy’s is sour), and a perusal of the day’s top stories. We have a couple of media outlets that are our go-to, and occasionally we rabbit trail to others. On weekdays it may only be for a few minutes that we sit together, read, and discuss current events. Saturday mornings we typically enjoy a long and more leisurely breakfast together as we read and discuss. It has been many years since we watched the news on television with any regularity.

In recent years I have made a couple of observations. First, whenever I happen into a room where a news or sports network is playing I am amazed at how jarring it is for me. The sheer volume and motion of visual information scrolling below, above, and on the side of the screen feels like sensory bombardment. Voices are loud, and often there are multiple voices vying for attention with the volume of their voice. Certain subjects are discussed ceaselessly and the discussions are repeated over and over and over again. I wonder how many times the words COVID, coronavirus, or virus are mentioned in a typical hour on any of the news networks.

My other observation is that if I regularly want news that is good, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting I must look for it. There are precious few news outlets who make it a point to find and pass along good news.

In the lyrics of today’s psalm, David has plenty of bad news that he is exorcising through song. Enemies are assailing him, he is surrounded on all sides, and the threat of war is real. There’s not a lot of good news. Then in verses 4 and 5 David makes a very conscious shift…

He turns to God with his request.

He seeks after being in God’s presence.

He makes a conscious effort to find God’s beauty.

“Come,” he says of his heart, “seek [God’s] face!”

By the last stanza of the song David is confident that he “will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” But it didn’t just happen. He went looking for it.

I find it fascinating that news being broadcast is called “a feed.” I meditated on that in the quiet this morning. I am fed the news. Writers choose the perspective with which they see the facts. Editors decide which stories get fed to us and which stories get completely ignored. Senior editors decide the larger story they people to be fed with what is seen, heard, and read in their feed.

I have come to understand that my mental diet is as important to my health and well-being as my physical diet. When I mindlessly feed at the trough of any news source, I end up wondering if there is anything good, positive, or optimistic in this crazy world.

There is. Every day God’s goodness is evident in the land of the living:

It’s there. But I’ve learned that I have to consciously choose to turn away from the never-ending, 24/7/365, voluminous, bombarding stream of sickness, death, war, violence, protest, anger, rage, tragedy, greed, and corruption that I am being fed.

I have to choose to feed my heart and mind a regular diet of something that is good for me.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Lord, give victory to the king!
    Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20:9 (NRSVCE)

I grew up a fan of the Minnesota Vikings and watched them every Sunday on television. It wasn’t until I was an adult with children of my own that I went to a game myself. I’ll never forget being in the nosebleed section at the top of the Metrodome when the Vikings scored. The entire crowd stood and sang the Vikings’ fight song.

What?! I had no idea they had a fight song. The television always cuts to a commercial after someone scores or else the commentators are providing their thoughts on the touchdown and showing replays in slow motion. I never realized that in the back ground a stadium full of Viking fans were singing.

Fight songs are a part of sports, though we don’t give them much thought. When Wendy and I watch Liverpool in the Premier League play, the fans are singing almost non-stop through the entire match. They have different songs about different players. When Wendy and I were choosing which Premier League team we were going to cheer for (yes, we thoroughly weighed our options), we found out that before each game the Anfield stadium crowd sings You’ll Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers. Watching it on YouTube sealed the deal for us.

Music and the struggle for victory go hand-in-hand. Music brings unity and camaraderie to the masses. Music sung by a crowd stirs emotion and channels energy. It can lift spirits. It can encourage a team to dig deeper and motivate them to strive harder knowing there are tens of thousands behind them and cheering them on. They know it because they hear the singing.

Today’s psalm is basically an ancient fight song that David penned for his people to sing for him. It’s basically two verses with a one line chorus in between them. In the first verse, the people bless the king and ask that God would bless, support, and fight for David. The chorus asks God to give the king a spiritual blank check and grant all his requests. The second verse is an anthem of faith that God will assure the defeat of David’s enemies and ends praising God (not David) for the victory.

Back in Psalm 18, David wrote an epic song giving praise to God for all of his victories. It’s written in the first person, from David’s point-of-view. In contrast, today’s song is clearly intended to be sung by the people, the masses, the entire nation. In that way, it is an ancient version of a national anthem.

In the quiet, as I meditate on it this morning, I’m struck that David wanted to ensure that when his people sang about his victories, they ascribed the victory to God. King David had to have remembered when twenty-some years earlier he defeated Goliath, and the women all danced sang:

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

1 Samuel 18:7

It was that song that began to turn King Saul against David and wreak havoc on his life for years. Now that he’s king, Psalm 20 stands as a testament to the fact that David wanted to use his authority to ensure any fight song sung by his people for him would be a prayer for God’s blessing and would ascribe praise for the victory to God and not him.

An interesting side note. While we don’t know what the song would have sounded like, it must have been catchy. Archaeologists uncovered a papyrus fragment (Papyrus Amherst 63) that contains Psalm 20 virtually word-for-word but ascribes the prayer and praise to the Egyptian god Horus. Same song. Different team. It’s still common for high schools to steal a famous fight song tune and use it for their own.

As the wise sage of Ecclesiastes wrote: “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Start of a new work week. I’m cheering you on. Hope it’s a good one.