Psalm Portal, Part III

Reading N.T. Wright’s The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential this morning, I came across the line:

…the question is more how we can find our way into their world… (page 6)

This is what I’ve been struggling to articulate that happens when I pray and sing the Psalms daily – a portal is opened and I partake of a world that begins to look a lot like the one Jesus lived and died to proclaim: the Kingdom of God. N.T. Wright had a lot more in store for me, as it turns out, because his little book about the Psalms is entirely about this portal to God’s Kingdom, and how it intersects this world of reality we typically inhabit from womb to tomb.

Two extended quotes are in order, the first a statement of Wright’s thesis, that the Psalms form the intersection of three dimensions, time, place, and matter:

I am thinking, first, of the crossroads between one sort of time and another: our time, if you like, and God’s time, in which aspects of what we think of as the “past” and what we think of as the “future” can actually come together in what we perceive and experience as the “present.” I am thinking, second, of the crossroads between one sort of “place” and another: our place or space, if you like, and God’s space. (In the Bible, these are often referred to as “earth” and “heaven,” though that can be misleading because many people today assume that if “heaven” exists, it is a long way away and a different sort of reality altogether, which isn’t how the Bible sees it at all.) I am thinking, third, of the crossroads between the created order, the material world as we normally perceive it, and the way in which that creation, already “charged with the grandeur of God,” is promised that it will at the last be filled afresh, filled to overflowing, with that same grandeur or glory. (pp. 21-22)

The second quote outlines the significance of this notion of Psalms as Portal, or intersection, if you like =)

The Psalms, I want to suggest here, are songs and poems that help us not just to understand this most ancient and relevant worldview but actually to inhabit and celebrate it – this world view in which, contrary to most modern assumptions, God’s time and ours of overlap and intersect, God’s space and ours overlap and interlock, and even (this is the really startling one, of course) the sheer material world of God’s creation is infused, suffused, and flooded with God’s own life and love and glory. (p. 22)

The Psalms, then facilitate a communication between piety and mercy, the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. They are an intersection that enables the Torah of God to define how we see and understand and inhabit this world in which we live and breath and have our being. They are not an escape, but a lens – a worldview, as Wright argues. But they also shape us in that worldview, so that those of us who inhabit the Psalms, and who practice their inhabitation of our lives and loves, become shapers of the world around us, into the Kingdom of God, where God’s will is perfectly accomplished, and where all manner things will be well, and where justice and mercy prevail.

Well-played, Wright. Well-played.

P.S. Read in Kalus Seybold’s “Introducing the Psalms” (trans. by R. Graeme Dunphy):

“The singer hopes with his new song to bring the congregation from listening to seeing, from seeing to being astounded, and from astonishment to trust…” (p. 40, in an explication of Psalm 40).

A Question of Translation

The question of translation looms large as I consider next steps in this Psalm pilgrimage. If I have set before me the ultimate goal of memorizing the Psalms through the power of music, I must make a translation decision – and that decision will drive a host of consequences down the road.

If this pilgrimage were a solo act, a practice of individual prayer and contemplation, the answer would be easy. I could mix and match, or choose whatever translation I like, or make hybrid translation – including trying my hand at my own translations. On my own, I wouldn’t have to care about issues such as translation or music copyright. My collection of Psalm scripture songs could be as eclectic as it already is, drawing from endless sources and adding my own peculiar and distinct compositions whenever the Spirit moved me to do so.

At the end of that rabbit hole (composing personal, Spirit-led – hopefully – Psalm songs), I could compose an entirely new Psalter of scripture songs, based on multiple, and/or hybrid collage translations, including my own translations from scratch. And who would care but me? Such an undertaking would take a while, of course, but I’m happy to walk and dance and sing this pilgrimage for what remains of my life.

But I am not on this pilgrimage alone. More and more, I feel compelled to take notice of my companions on this Way – both for ways in which I can give and receive – because we are bound together in relationship. And that way of relationship involves an utterly complex decision – or series of decisions – about translation. Of course I bring something to this conversation: I am committed to a faithful, dynamic equivalent translation for our time and for all people – female and male created in the one image of God – and which invites and compels us to open ourselves to this transforming word, rather than to see ourselves and our presuppositions of truth in a mirror-idol of our own making.

I had hoped that the ICEL Psalter would answer, and perhaps it will…

And wouldn’t it be loverly if the lyrics actually danced instead of clunking along in the ill-fitting armor that suits up ancient (dead for so long) Hebrew with contemporary English? Tim Plimpton asked about Hebrew (seriously), and mentioned the NKJV (which both Esther Mui and Scott Brenner favor). I know the KJV/NKJV might be lyrical, but I can no longer go to a place that shuts out so many, for whom God has called me to preach. I had hoped that the ICEL Psalter would answer, and perhaps it will as I spend more time with it – yet this translation is as little known among mainstream Christians as it is bound up in copyright.

Even as I write, I’m thinking of the mash-up solution – a polyglot sampler that tastes of the relentless bounty in this wide open harvest field. Why be troubled or bothered by the Constantinian conceit to overlay some mythical, all-encompassing, elusive template on this writhing creative spirit that grows wild everywhere along this path. Wouldn’t that answer for the prolific fecundity of passionate desire and relentless searching? Even as I spoke with Tim, not too long ago, i wondered about the invitation not to choose one translation principle at the expense of all the others.

So, perhaps this problem is also an invitation to revel in the absurd proliferation of creative translation into words and music – appropriate for a pilgrimage community bewildering in our diversity, defying at every turn every attempt to categorize and sort us into ever larger, destructive and incomprehensible patterns. I am not a pattern. The Psalms themselves poke fun at our idolatrous attempts to categorize them: laments give way to praise – cautionary bridges interrupt songs of thanksgiving. Individual songs tap into the voice of the community. The Psalter evolves as we sing and pray together in our creative diversity.

The Psalter is a launching pad, a river that flows from the heart of God to the sea of God’s people, and God’s creation, scattered over all the earth and throughout the universe, quivering and resonating – in tension and resolution, yet always utterly connected in ways which consistently defy our attempts to describe and conscribe. Like prayer itself – not the words, but the life we live in communion with God – without ceasing.

Just now, I am blessed in the midst of this tension by a setting of Psalm 8 composed by Dan Forrest that transcends this tension, in Hebrew and in English, and of course, in the mysterious language of music – love and wonder in any language.

Postmodern Musings: Metadesign and Experimentation

fractal3Wired Magazine Nov 2015 issue, “Let’s Change the Future: Race, Gender, and Equality in the Digital Age” includes an article on the #BlackLivesMatter new civil rights movement by Bijan Stephen. In the article, “Get Up, Stand Up,” Stephen quotes Maurice Mitchell, an organizer of the group Blackbird, when he compares the current civil rights movement to that of the 60’s. Mitchell says of the current movement, “It’s decentralized but coordinated.”

Stephen goes on to write that the limitations of tech in the 60’s required “a big institutional structure to make things work.” New social media and global communications tech make it possible to “wake up and sit at the breakfast table and talk to a million people,” in the words of activist DeRay Mckesson.

The idea of “decentralized but coordinated” puts me in mind of software design process, which employs the notions of a conceptual framework, social creativity, and meta-design. These media-supported creative environments blur the line between designers and consumers, opening up the design process to the possibilities of cooperative problem solving, networked, complex systems thinking, and reflexivity, or “emergence (the absence of absolute control, and the ability to take advantage of unintended and unforeseen results)” in the words of the current Wikipedia article on metadesign (emphasis mine).

  • Decentralized but coordinated.
  • Absence of absolute control.
  • Social creativity.

I’m not thinking about software design, but the future of the church, and how we might use these new models of creative, communal collaboration to ride a not-so-new wave of creative possibility. The gang in Acts 15 celebrated a new concept that seemed “good to the Holy Spirit and to us,” in the wake of a crisis-inspired conference. Our present crisis goes well beyond irrelevance to a postmodern, hyper-socially-connected age – we lack a conceptual framework (a map) of how to live as the church in our rapidly-changing time.

Our world is fraught with negative examples of institutional inability to cope with a new cultural landscape: the church in Europe, health care in America, or print media everywhere. This morning’s USA Today op ed piece by Rem Rieder, “The newspaper business’ travails comments on the most recent round of staff layoffs. “But at least [this latest approach] was trying something new. And that’s critical as newspapers seek to find their way in the digital era.” Reider goes on to write, “The need to experiment was very much the theme of… the recent conclave in silicon Valley as a symbol of the need to innovate, to be entrepreneurial, a healthy change for an industry that for many years was resistant to change.”

I don’t know where all of this is going, but I do see a common thread in the notion of leveraging consumers (rank and file) as collaborative designers. And how this process necessarily involves drastic change: experimentation and entrepreneurial enterprise. That means embracing failure – even redefining failure as so much more than a means to an end. Think about what emergence means above, and how a failure to arrive at a predetermined goal becomes a portal to an “unintended and unforeseen” journey.

In another paper, Next Church Notion of Church, I have likened this process to a Pilgrimage, where the journey itself becomes far more important than the destination (an excuse or impetus for the journey). We think we know where we are heading, but along the way, transformation overtakes us in the moveable feast of the pilgrim community of which we are a part.

More of this later. Just wanted to get some ideas on paper. See how they look.

Open-Handed Happiness

150906-Graphic3September 6, 2015

Annual Theme: By his wounds, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)

Seasonal Theme: Wise Postures for New Life (Wisdom’s Way of Healing)

Weekly Theme: Open-Handed Happiness – Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 (22:9)

Here is the preliminary result of my study of the Proverbs 22 reading for this Sunday at Whatcoat:

1 A good name is more desirable than great riches;[a] to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
2 Rich and poor have this in common (h6298.pagash; a prim. root; to meet, encounter)[b]: The Lord is the Maker of them all.[c]

8 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity,[d] and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.[e]
9 The generous ( טֽוֹב ־עַ֭יִן literally, “good eye/spring of water,” or “looks kindly”) will themselves be blessed,[f] for they share their food with the poor. (h1800b. לדַּ dal; from 1809; low, weak, poor, thin)[g]

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

Reciprocal nature of this meeting/encounter (thanks to God’s mutual creation)

  1. sowing and reaping (injustice); unjust rule and overthrow/defeat
  2. generosity (food) and blessing
  3. exploitation and retributive justice (life for life)

[a] Dad: “Sooner or later, you get to be known for who you are.” See Proverbs 3.3-4 (Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name (lit. “good discernment/reputation”) in the sight of God and man.)

[b] These encounters tend to be contentious ones. See Gen. 32.17 and 32.8 (Esau meets Jacob); Ex. 4:24 (the Lord meets Moses to put him to death); Prov. 17.12 (a man meets a mother bear – see also Hosea 13.8) and 29.13 (the Lord gives light to the eyes of the poor and the oppressor)

[c] Proverbs 14.31 connects this truth with the reciprocal nature of our life with others and with God – Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. See also Proverbs 19.17 below, in Note E.

[d] Hosea 8.7a For they sow the wind and they reap the whirlwind. But see Ecclesiastes 9.11 I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

[e] See Isaiah 14:5-6 The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers,

6 which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression.

[f] Proverbs 11.25 A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

[g] This word used mostly in Proverbs (14/49) and Job (6/49) – Proverbs, Job, and Psalms account for half (26/49). Proverbs 19.17 (He who is generous to the poor makes a loan to the LORD; He will repay him his due. (TNK)) sounds like Matthew 25:31ff.