The Psalms are more than just random Biblical poetry. They are reflections on a story. The story of the exile of the Hebrew nation from the promised land to Babylonian captivity. Unfortunately, according to Old Testament Biblical Scholar Dr. Walter Brueggemann, they are not in the correct order. He groups them according to Psalms of laments when they are in captivity, Psalms of hope when they are anticipating freedom, and Psalms of praise once freedom has been achieved.
However, he also notes that this type of division isn’t as easy as I just made it seem. It’s more about orientation, disorientation, and new orientation.
What do I mean? Well the Hebrew people were oriented to a way of life in Israel, then Nebuchadnezzar comes in and everything is disoriented; finally Cyrus the Great’s army frees the Hebrews, but when they return home, nothing is as it was. The temple was destroyed. The infrastructure was decimated. Foreigners were living on their lands. It was certainly not as it was. They had to go through a tough time of new orientation to a different reality.
Of course, this really is the story of all our lives. We are almost comfortable and then something happens, and we are anything but comfortable, and even as we emerge from our distress on the other side nothing is as it was.
Maybe it’s after a job loss or a move or a new baby or a wedding or divorce or adoption or death or…
I have been thinking a lot about my grandmother Mema recently. She was my Dad’s mom and has been gone for a long time now. I loved her dearly and miss her a great deal.
Growing up I’d often go spend a week or so in the summer time with her. In college her home was much closer than my family’s. I’d often call her on a Thursday or Friday to see if I could come and visit. I knew the answer was yes. And I knew she would be waiting on the porch for me to arrive with ginger cakes, buttermilk pies and homemade cinnamon rolls. We’d rock on the front porch, talk, laugh, watch football, and look for “ways to get in trouble” –like visiting relatives without telling them we were coming over first. (We were rebels!)
I also confess that once we did leave her lava lamp on all night. I know we walked on the wild side.
I spent a good bit of time in Elberton with her at 17 Oak Street, but I cannot remember when I’ve been to Elberton since she passed away. I guess I have been for a funeral or two and maybe a family reunion. When I do go there it still feels disorienting. I struggle with the new orientation. You simply can’t go back in time—alas the movie Back to the Future really is just a pretend story.
I believe that the church today is much like the Hebrew people in the period of Babylonian captivity. The church in the US was oriented to a way of being for decades and suddenly we have become exiles even in our own land. Protestant Christians are no longer the majority, we are no longer the most influential, there are more folks not in the pews than there are in the pews on Sundays, and the faith we once used to bring about Good News and build bridges is often being used to divide people and separate us from one another.
It is disorienting. And even as we are perhaps coming out on the other side of this paradigm shift, the new reality and new orientation is equally unnerving. We are realizing the church is going to be dramatically different than it was before. It is clear that never again will we have the landscape many of us remember where the church and its activities dominate society.
The question is what are we to do about it? How are we to react?
We could decide to simply mourn and cry out in anguish. There are Psalms that do just that, but these Psalms are not the final word. The final Psalms written are songs of praise to God. Such is the Psalm for this upcoming Sunday: Psalm 148. Psalm 148 poetically disrupts the darkness with a kaleidoscope of praise to God. It is a call to remember who we are and who we will be.
I mourn Mema and I do miss her every day, but I also celebrate all she gave me. And I work to pass on those gifts she taught me—especially to my children.
Gifts like hospitality—she didn’t make company of anyone.
And acceptance—everyone was always welcome.
And generosity—she was always giving to others.
And love—for all and especially her family and her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
Mema found joy in life and gave praise to God for all her blessings.
My children are of course growing up in a world far different than any Mema ever knew, but what she taught me is timeless. I strive to pass those lessons on to the girls even though they may demonstrate hospitality and acceptance to others online. And give generously via electronic payments and praise God via music involving bass guitars and drums.
The church now operates in a new reality. But the lessons of justice and kindness and generosity and faith and forgiveness and joy and love are timeless.
We may be called to express them in new ways because of our new orientation, but we will remain authentic as long as we do them while continuously praising the Lord.
Praising God from the heavens and the earth and the in the morning and the night. Let us all Praise the Lord.