August Update

The bathroom project for at-risk children is complete! To read about this, as well more news from our world, visit our newsletter here.

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Final Stretch – Interpretive Practices

A little commentary on the wisdom literature of the Old Testament from this past week. Two more weeks until I graduate.. but still a final paper to start and finish. Pause world!

n this 3rd unit, I was encouraged by the reading on wisdom literature, and it’s unified, yet distinct contribution to the whole of scripture. In the OT canon, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Job can seem to stick out as being random, without any focus it seems on Israel, covenant etc. Yet, as we read, the focus on the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom is a unifying focus of all three books and is a unique derivative of the covenant relationship from Sinai which set Israel apart form it’s pagan neighbors and their gods. In Job, if we remove covenant from the book, we have no message. In Ecclesiastes, without covenant, truly all is meaningless! 

I was challenged to think through a fresh lens that Creator has set up a good world, but that in all three books, there’s a common disorder in the universe that has been unleashed causing much frustration. The writers recognize this common virus, though they don’t name it, in NT vernacular, we can all understand this issue to be sin. Wisdom, to live the good life in the midst of this disorder, begins with recognizing God as Creator, and though we have quite a limited view on the situation, we can trust in God, even when all hell breaks loose!

I was encouraged as well that for the Jewish world, God and world were not two separate realities.. “as if the cosmos was a machine wound up at creation and left to run on its own” but rather the Lord was understood to be active at all levels” (E. C., Lewis “Wisdom Theology,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings, IVP, 2008, p. 905)

Lastly, Green’s book has challenged me to take seriously my presuppositions, and rather than attempt to arrive at some neutral place in my mind, he encourages us to embrace principles of interpretation (p. 92-92) which mitigate our known and unknown presuppositions, keeping us coloring inside the lines when it comes to our relationship with Scripture. Instead of belonging for or against theological camps, I should rather “identify oneself with and among the community of faith” (Green p. 75) in this ongoing, generational church discussion with Scripture. This is liberating, because I think I’ve faked myself out, or tried to, thinking I’m reading from this place of total neutrality, only to be guilty of what Green calls an “anachronistic framework into which the pluriform message of Scripture might be squeezed” (Green, p. 80). In other words, I see how systematic theology has wreaked havoc in my journey with Scripture, robbing it of it’s multi-valence and intended formational influence.

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Beautiful Souls

As leaders, we can become isolated from the suffering nature of love. 

To be present, to pay attention, listen, and come alongside a lonely soul. It's easy to get lost in laptops, meetings and 'important' things.

Over the past year, due to Covid regulations, we've been unable to gather our local widows for fellowship. 

One of our volunteers became ill and was admitted to the hospital this week, which gave us the opportunity to drive out an area village where a handful of precious widows live and work in their gardens without end! 

One of our visits was with babushka Galia. She’s 84, and has quite an operation farming more than a small garden. She has sweet corn, potatoes, cucumbers, and all kinds of critters pecking about. She’s struggling to keep up, and recently had a heart attack that left her in the local hospital for over a month. She teared up as she explained the stress she feels to keep up with the garden and daily chores on her own. I tried to encourage her to scale back and take care of her health, but that’s an exercise in futility with these grandmothers. Their life is in their garden, it’s all they know, it gives them purpose in the morning, day and fills their thoughts at night.

She has kids, but they are all in the bigger cities, and only come to visit when there’s a problem. I asked her what brings her the most joy, she easily replied, “children, I miss being around children.”

It was so quiet in her village, buried in the forest. It once had a school, a store, but no more. Now, it’s just a handful of houses and some overgrown forest covering what used to be well traveled roads. It’s like stepping back in time. I saw her blood pressure readings, having gone through a season of monitoring my own last year, I noticed some dangerous spikes and asked if that was from her working in the garden. She replied, “maybe, but it’s probably from the stress I have with my neighbor. My garden weeds are reaching over to their yard and they are angry with me about that.” Isn’t it interesting, no matter how quiet, isolated, and seemingly without the stresses of our modern world, she shares in the struggles of the rest of us.

Our volunteers take $20 food packages monthly to now over 400 widows!

Hung on her walls I noticed some orthodox Christian imagery, icons. Thankful I was able to study some of the hand gestures of Christ (Greek sign for Trinity) and the elements in iconography that point to the true icon, God become flesh for us. After each visit, we close with prayer, and often the grandmother will cross herself, three times, in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. The hope of Jesus resurrection is so meaningful when physical death is looming, God’s loving offer of friendship and eternal life met with willing hearts – especially if embodied among the family of God.

Well, that’s my story from yesterday. There’s more I could share, like the 96 yr old neighbor grandmother that has sleepless nights, dirt floors and grossly misshaped toes/feet. Some of the sights, the smells, reminding me that this ministry is truly about entering the pain of others, taking it on, and a certain emptying must take place for this sort of path. To empty oneself of all that we consider spiritual from our former dualistic concepts, to see the upside down kingdom, God in the material here and now, among us in the forgotten, outside on the fringes. To go there, requires an embracing of death early on in our journey, not late towards the end of life when all our vigor and energies have been spent on our anxious search for meaning. When we stop striving, we can be present, we can love those in front of us in actuality, not in words, but through embodying the love that has been poured into us by our Creator. I don’t confess knowing this pathway too well, I’ve only started walking its path, the trail is not worn, but I’m seeing it, and I think that’s a start.

Jesus be with dear Galia. Be with all your dear widows, and empower us by your mercy to love them as we experience your perfect love.

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By the Rivers of Babylon

Psalm 137 – Interpretive Overview

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.

I inhibit a context, a social, cultural and geographical location. “Our locations naturally set the agenda and determine the assumptions we bring with us to any reading of Scripture” (Erickson, Reading From Location PDF, 1). In this unit’s learning, we have been asked to bring an interpretation from the world in front of the text. If I’m honest, this seems daunting and even dangerous to attempt without first doing some historical-critical, and textual research in what is a particular lament, from a particular location in history. 

The Psalm is located in the fifth book of the collection and is most likely dated between 538-515 BCE. We know this because Babylon still exists, and the temple has yet to be rebuilt. The people of Israel, therefore, are in exile with the destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE) still fresh in the rear view mirror. As the Psalm begins, God’s people are oppressed, captured and very far from home.

Textually, the lament begins in 1-4 with a scene of poetic despair. “By the rivers of Babylon,” a title given through history to this famous Psalm, sums up the situation! As captors, the people of God are mourning their political situation. Taunted by their captors to entertain them with song, the Psalmist confesses the impossibility of rejoicing while fresh memories of destruction and dread fill their hearts in 5-6. The lament closes in 7-9 with a call for justice for the wickedness heaped upon their nation, families, and even children. The last phrase concerning children being “dashed against the rock” was not a literal call for vengeance, but an ancient 

I’m a Canadian born, American dual-citizen who has enjoyed an incredible amount of mobility throughout my life. Travel has been mostly a positive experience and my destinations, chosen! When I read this lament, I’m reminded that I have never experienced the reality of being a refugee, imprisoned or held against my will for more than a few hours. As Gorman states, a posture of humility is needed when approaching scripture as we all bring certain limitations in knowledge and perspective (Gorman 2020, Elements, p 142). As I consider the human element of witnessing my friends and family being killed, or the screams of bloodshed that might have haunted those caught in the throes of war, I find myself even fearful of relating a lament like Psalm 137 within my cozy, privileged location. 

When I meditate on this Psalm, I’m filled personally with grief over the evils in our world. The world, for me, seems quite peaceful, even though I’m near Russian aggression to the east of Ukraine. There are, tonight, many crying out verbally and in silence, for a God to show up and deliver them. There’s a certain befuddlement, a disillusionment in a lament, and I’m left quite speechless as to how I can truly synthesize this in my own world. I am, however, surrounded by deeper levels of suffering among the poor, the widow and orphan. Perhaps, this is more of a confession on my part, that I have more opportunity to enter the suffering of others, and must. 

As far as questions, I’m curious how Israel actually employed a psalm like 137 in history, whether in the Temple or in other settings? I’ve yet to participate in a corporate lament through song. I’m also wondering if the final verse in it’s violent description has a linguistic history that might be revealing, and whether the psalmist is bringing comfort, in an Old Testament justice sort of way? Perhaps lamenting the sorrys of parents who saw their own children taken from them during the siege? 

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