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Musing 1.8.21

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 1.8.2021

This musing is truly a musing in that I am thinking out loud. These are ideas with which I have been wrestling since Wednesday’s events in Washington. I believe most of us have struggled to make sense of them and wondered how we go forward as a people.

I watched the events unfold with an increasingly sinking feeling. I shall not describe what all of us saw. I felt that our country was bottoming out. On Thursday I spoke with one of our members about what we saw and our feelings. He hoped that our country will soon get over its political addictions. He didn’t think healing could happen until we acknowledge these addictions. I had not thought of it in those terms; however, my “bottoming out” language is close to the AA step of admitting addiction had made life unmanageable. To bottom out is a wakeup call that we need healing. It is very difficult to deny. In this sense bottoming out can be the first step to wholeness. That is hopeful.

Our addictions may go either way depending which cable news station we watch. There is not much middle ground. The addiction to either adoration or loathing of a candidate, a party, a president fills the time, thoughts, and energy of almost everyone. Sometimes the addictions to adoration and loathing occur simultaneously in the same group. These addictions meet a need to love and/or hate that one cannot live without. And as with any addiction, it can destroy our lives. We saw this addiction of adoration and loathing on display Wednesday.

To understand addiction, I pulled out my notes from a class Rick Gilson and I taught on Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. We tend to think of addiction in terms substance abuse, material things, grievances, and control, to name a few. Our addictions come to define us. Rohr writes, “Stinking thinking” is the universal addiction. Substance addictions like alcohol and drugs are merely the most visible form of addiction, but actually we are all addicted to our own habitual way of doing anything, our own defenses, and most especially, our patterned way of thinking, or how we process our reality. The very fact we have to say this shows how much we are blinded inside of it. By definition, you can never see or handle what you are addicted to.” (page xxiii). For Rohr addictions point to a deeper need. Rohr goes on to say that this universal addiction to our own pattern of thinking is dualistic.

This description of addiction fits neatly with our current climate. We are so locked into our thought patterns, systems, and reality that we cannot understand how anyone can think otherwise. The dualistic thinking clearly divides us. We talk past each other. Actually, we don’t even talk to each other. As our country moves forward, our leaders talk of the need for healing and recovery. How does that happen?

On occasion the Keeny children have been frustrated with my seeing things in spiritual terms. “Oh, Dad, God is not always the answer”, or “Not every hero is a Christ figure.” Maybe I am speaking only from my experience; but if our lives are not filled with one thing, they will be filled with something else. If they are not filled with the things of the Spirit, they will be filled with addictions. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so our lives abhor a spiritual vacuum. Luke 11:24-26 is a great parable of this.

If we are not filled with the Spirit, we shall be addicted to stinking thinking. Where I am going with this is an opinion that our country engage in the 12 steps for the healing of our country. Although all the steps must be followed in humility, I won’t go through them here. I shall, however, highlight step 11. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood [God], praying only for knowledge of [God’s] will for us and the power to carry that out.” Prayer moves us out of the idolatry of dualistic thinking. It moves us out of our world and into God’s. We get out of our thinking and think our way into God’s world. As we improve our conscious contact with God, we improve our contact with God’s world. This is prayer that does not reflect our hatreds and prejudices. It is prayer that humbly reflects God’s loves, reconciliation, and peacemaking. It seeks God’s world.

Prayer, the placing of our lives in God’s hands, the thinking our way into God’s world, is where the healing of the addiction starts. It is where our hope begins.

Be safe and well.

Musing 1.1.21

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 1.1.2021

“Keep Christ in Christmas” We see the signs every year. I did again this year. I also received a text to buy a coffee mug that expressed the desire to “Make Christmas Great Again.” I am not fully sure what the intention of the latter was, but the former is a plea that Christmas be less commercial. It is the hope that we remember the reason for the season.

I don’t have any argument with wanting to keep Christ in Christmas. I do, however, propose that we also Don’t Keep Christ in Christmas. What I mean is that we do not keep Christ only in Christmas. We should not treat Christmas as Christ’s prison in which he is confined. We need to let him out of Christmas.

If we keep him in Christmas, he is trapped as a baby in a manger thousands of years ago in a foreign land. What good is that? He needs to grow up, teach parables, preach sermons, heal, comfort, challenge, and call disciples. He needs to live and die and be resurrected. He needs to become alive in the world to save and transform lives.

It is a religious temptation to keep God in a box so that we can control God. We try to restrict God’s freedom and activity by restricting God to only certain times and places. That keeps God from interfering in our lives. It is a way to avoid God. For example, we may keep God in the church building and not let God out of it. Then God is easy to manage and ignore. If God stays only in the church, we are free to live as we desire outside the church. There are all kinds of boxes in which God is kept. God can be confined to the past, to the future, in Galilee, in a manger, in a season, to a cross, in a tomb. A box is convenient in that we can keep God in it until God is needed. Then we can let God out to meet our needs. Keeping God in a box is a form of idolatry. God becomes our servant who caters to our agenda.

To keep Christ in Christmas is to miss the point of Christmas which is that God is free to show up in the least expected places and times. Christmas is over, but that does not mean God is done showing up in our lives and in the world. Christ can show up in a hospital in January, in a homeless camp, in February, in a neighborhood zoom call in March, in a family argument in April, in a courtroom in May. Christ can show up in devotions, in the woods, at the beach, in the nursing home, in a board meeting, on the street. Christ is neither static nor predictable. He keeps popping up. He keeps interjecting himself. That is our hope. Just as he cannot be kept in a manger, so he cannot be kept in a tomb. That is the Good News. Christ is going to be Christ.

We are still in the Christmas season; it is twelve days. Let’s not leave Christ behind us when it ends. Let’s look forward to meeting him throughout 2021 where and when we least expect him. Let’s not keep Christ in Christmas.

Be safe and healthy.

Happy New Year.

Musing 12.23.20

Pastor John's Musing 12.23.2020

I hope you have been participating in King Avenue's online Advent and Christmas experiences. The Heartsong concert is spirited and joyful. The Lessons and Carols service is spiritual and inspiring. Blue Christmas is comforting and profoundly peaceful. Christmas Eve is hopeful and uplifting. The Christmas Word Cloud is edifying and full of grace. All of these opportunities are the truth of the Light shining in the darkness.

If you have not experienced these services, please give yourself the gift of time to participate in these events and have new life born in you. 

 

King Avenue Christmas Links

Have a blessed Christmas.

Be safe and healthy.

Musing 12.18.20

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 12.18.2020

The first human response to the events surrounding the birth of Jesus was terror. “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them (the shepherds), and they were terrified.” (Luke 2:9). The King James has “sore afraid.” It is not the last time that human beings respond to God with fear. There is fear at the empty tomb (Mark 16:8; Matthew 28:8). Actually, fear is a common response to the appearance of the divine in human affairs. Fear does not show up in many Christmas cards or carols. We wish people the love of Christmas and the peace of Christmas, but not the fear of Christmas. There are Advent candles for hope and joy, but not fear. What is the role of fear at Christmas?

We tend to be bundles of fears. The political tension and the virus have increased our fears and magnified them. We fear for our health and our nation, we fear for our jobs and our families. We fear rejection, shame, crime, growing old, the night, the light, pain, disease, criticism, failure, pollution, climate change, poverty, homelessness, loneliness, the stranger, death, and extinction. While the shepherds would add God to the list, would we? We fear so many things, but not God.

Karl Barth wrote, “Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas.” That is provocative. What I think he was driving at is this. Until we come to terms with the reality of God in the world, we shall be a bundle of fears without God. This reality obliterates any sense of control we may have, and we tend to interpret this lack of control as a threat to our existence. God is seen, as we tend to see any stranger, as an entity that invades our space – an enemy intending to judge and destroy us.

I have this picture of the shepherds sitting in the field fearing many things: hunger, unemployment, the future. Then the divine appears, and that big fear replaces all the other fears. Coming to terms with this new fear overrides all the others. Their fears undergo a radical transformation in light of this one fear. This event hacks at the roots of all the other fears.

I think we have had the experience of worrying about numerous things at one time. We hop from one fear to the next. Then something happens and that new fear makes us forget the other fears. These fears don’t seem as important. We might have worried about the rattle in the car, the toothache, getting the taxes done. Then we are told that we have an inoperable tumor. That one fear overrides all the others.

Christmas without fear carries with it fear without Christmas. The shepherds realized that God is real. Sometimes it is initially fear that makes something real. It is taken with utmost seriousness. They realized that God is real-er than all their fears. It was God that had to be dealt with. Until they did, they would be fears without God. They needed to come to terms with God’s presence in the world and their lives. What do they learn about that presence?

“Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you this day in the city of David, a Savior.” (Luke 2:10). God is not going to punish us and add to our fears. God is coming to free us from our fears. GOD WILL BRING LIFE.

“Do not be afraid; for to you is born.” We matter to God. God takes us seriously. The light of God shines in our darkness. GOD WILL BRING HOPE.

“Do not be afraid; for to you is born this day.” Now. God is present today. GOD WILL BRING JOY.

The God who is feared comes not to destroy us but to love us. God comes not to diminish us but to elevate us.

When the angel tells the shepherds that the sign of this Savior is a baby, this is a sign that the divine is not invading their world to destroy them. Just the opposite. As Martin Luther preached,

Divinity may terrify. Inexpressible majesty will crush. That is why Christ took on our humanity, that he should not terrify us but rather that with love and favor he should console and confirm.

See how God invites you in many ways. [God] places before you a Babe with whom you may take refuge. You cannot fear him, for nothing is more appealing to [humanity] than a babe. Are you affrighted? Then come to him, lying in the lap of the fairest and sweetest maid. You will see how great is the divine goodness, which seeks above all else that you should not despair. Trust him! Trust him! Here is the Child in whom is salvation. To me there is no greater consolation given to [humanity] than this, that Christ became [human], a child, a babe, playing in the lap and at the breasts of his most gracious mother. Who is there whom this sight would not comfort? Now is overcome the power of sin, death hell, conscience, and guilt, if you come to the gurgling Babe and believe that he is come, not to judge you, but to save.

Have a blessed Christmas, full of LIFE, HOPE, JOY!

Be safe and well.

Musing 12.4.20

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 12.4.2020

One night this week our four-year-old granddaughter Clementine who lives in Johnstown woke up in the middle of the night and called out into the darkness,

“Mommy” …… No answer.

“Daddy” …. No answer.

“Is anyone out there?” …… No answer.

“Penelope” …. No answer. (Her sister.)

“Grandma” …. No answer.

“Grandpa” …. No answer.

“Marya” …. No answer. (Her aunt)

“Elena” …. No answer. (Her other aunt)

“Is anyone out there?”

She had run out of people. I don’t think she called out to the cats. It is not a bad question, “Is anyone out there?” It is a good question during the pandemic. For the last two Sundays we have worshiped in an empty Fellowship Hall and an empty sanctuary. I cannot speak for the other participants in the service, but I found preaching to a void to be an unsettling, lonely experience. While preaching may seem to be a one-way lecture, it is a conversation between the preacher and the congregation. Just as it takes two to tango, it takes two to preach. In short, I, like Clementine, need to know there is someone out there listening. I need to know there is life out there. Your coughs, leaning, silence, deep stares, laughs, sneezes, yawns, neck and arm stretches, cries, nods, claps let me know of life out there. I suppose the lack of feedback leads one to feel the words are not so much falling on deaf ears as they are falling on no ears. Why speak if there is no one to hear? I our speaking and listening we confirm each other’s existence.

I mentioned this unnerving sense of loneliness to a retired teacher. She understood immediately what I was talking about. My guess is that we have had that sense of “Is anyone out there?” in our relationships.

Partners, parents, neighbors, children, employers, employees, doctors, nurses, elected officials, “Is anyone out there?” When we believe that no one is out there, we believe that we are insignificant and small. If we are not heard, we think our existence doesn’t matter. The isolation we experience in the pandemic contributes to wondering if anyone is out there. After a while, Netflex, zoom, and cable TV are not great confirmations of our existence.

Of course, this is a spiritual concern. Is anyone out there? If so, are you listening? Psalm 88 profoundly poses this question. The psalmist prays all night without a response. “God, are you out there?” No answer. The psalmist asks repeatedly. No answer. The prayer ends with darkness as the psalmist’s only companion. No answer. We may not admit it publicly, but we have had prayers and doubts like that.

Psalm 88 is not a happy psalm, but it is a faithful one. And it is faith that is needed more than happiness. The psalmist will keep praying, keep believing, keep speaking. He/she will continue to stay rooted and grounded in God. The psalmist will keep the channel of communication open to God. That is what faith does. Sometimes that is all faith can do. Keep talking. Keep praying. Keep listening.

Advent is the season to ask, “Is anyone out there?” Zechariah and Elizabeth asked. It’s the human question. Joseph and the shepherds had to ask it. I bet Mary had her moments also. We too. With them we wait for the answer. We wait to be heard. We wait for the confirmation of our lives. Come, Lord Jesus.

BTW, Clementine’s parents were out there and did come to her. She knew she mattered.

Be safe and well.

Musing 11.20.20

In late May, Colleen and I starred in an in-house video concerning re-opening King Avenue for in-person worship beginning June 14. This was an attempt to prepare persons for what to expect. We covered masks, sanitization, and social distancing. We addressed how to enter and exit the building, and how critical ushers and greeters would be. We prepared worshipers for the changes in worship such is the lack of a choir and the hymn singing “softly to yourself.” The video stressed that in-person worship should be seen as an option to online worship and that the kind of worship one attended was not indicative of any spiritual superiority.

We emphasized two final issues. One, to quote directly, “The spirit of worship will not change one bit. God is good all the time. We are still a community--whether in-person or online--called by God’s reconciling grace to trust, worship, and serve. God’s creative power, love, and mercy will join our worship and fill our hearts. We will praise, pray, listen to the scriptures, and we’ll even get to greet and bless one another.” And two, “[on-person worship is] actually an opportunity for our congregation to model a safe and respectful way for people to come together in public.”

This past Wednesday our staff met at length to discuss whether or not King Avenue should continue to worship in-person. The causes of the discussion were the statements of curfew by Governor DeWine and the joint advisory by the health commissioners for Columbus and Franklin County. It was a healthy and respectful dialog. A variety of opinions and concerns were voiced. I was proud of our collegiality and I believe you would have been also. In the end we made decisions. One, we would remain open for in-person worship at both 9 and 11am. Two, we would limit singing to only the worship leaders. Three, we would suspend in-person worship if the county went purple.

The Franklin County went purple so we shall suspend in-person worship effective this Sunday, November 22, until further notice. I want, however, to write about the first point, the decision to stay open before we went purple. Why would we do that in light of what our civic leaders were advising and that other churches had already ceased or were intending to cease in-person worship? It was because you had acted so safely and respectfully. You have truly modeled how to worship in-person and online. Sunday after Sunday worshipers have masked, distanced, sanitized, and cared for each other. You have faithfully followed every precaution and made King Avenue a safe place to be and to worship. You have shown other institutions how to behave and respect their neighbor in public. You modeled what we talked about in May.

We know how this has been a time in our country to ignore safe behavior and flaunt individual rights. It is also a time of binary thinking. Any issue is immediately politicized. If one is not with us, they are against us. If one is not red, they must be blue. If one is not blue, they must red. The party line must be toed. There is no middle or other ground. We were aware that, by choosing to remain open, some would push us into a camp most of us were not part of. We felt it was healthy to resist this politicized, binary thinking of facilely labeling ourselves and our neighbor. We wanted to model not only behavior but also thinking which transcended pigeonholing. Such thinking shows independence and a willingness to see a third way of reconciliation. That is a witness needed in our country. Our division cannot be overcome until the politicized, binary thinking is overcome.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the model of behavior which demonstrates your concern for neighbor. I am also thankful for the faithful vision of a Christ-centered third way which transcends factions and offers hope of unity. It is a different plane. Christ’s way calls us out of binary thinking to a liberated, new way of seeing and behaving. Christ offers an option which is other than the two which are presented us. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female [there is neither gay nor straight, there is neither red nor blue] for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Stay safe and well!

Musing 11.13.20

As, I imagine, did many of you, I made a point of watching Governor DeWine’s speech to the state this past Wednesday. I greatly appreciated his wisdom, candor, authenticity, and concern. Throughout his presentation I kept thinking of scripture passages to bolster his argument for masks. The one that kept swirling in my mind was I Corinthians 10:23-24, “’All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.’ ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his/her own good, but the good of his/her

neighbor.”

The context for this passage is Paul’s wrestling with what our New Testament professor called, “Whoopee Theology.” The gist of it is “Christ died for my sins. I am saved by God’s grace. Whoopee! I can do whatever I want.” Many in the church at Corinth subscribed to Whoopee Theology. The specific problem Paul addresses is the issue of whether or not a member of the church should eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Since Christianity maintained that idols didn’t exist, one was free to eat this meat because it was sacrificed to nothing. It was just a cut of meat. It sounds like this faction reveled in their freedom. Others who had recently converted from paganism, were more scrupulous and refrained from eating this meat. It bothered their consciences to do it themselves and to see others do it because of the connotations of their possibly participating in the idol worship.

Paul response is not to address the issue in terms of what is best for the individual, but in terms of what is best for the individual’s neighbor. It is as if Paul is saying, “Of course you are free to do what you want, but that is not the point. You are missing the point. The point is whether or not what you are free to do helps your neighbor. That is the point. If it does not help your neighbor, don’t do it.” One is to think in terms of the welfare of the community of faith. I don’t think Paul could be clearer. People are not to think in terms of “I,” but in terms of “we.” The world is bigger than me.

The practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols is long forgotten. However, it is fairly easy to update Paul’s argument to one’s stance on whether or not to wear a mask. We have freedoms, rights, and entitlements in our country. People say that they have the freedom not to mask, not to social distance. Of course, they have that freedom, but that is not the point. The point is, “Is it helpful to my neighbor?” It is not my rights that matter, but my neighbor’s rights that I should consider. Because I can or may do something, doesn’t mean I should do it. Whoopee Theology and its practice have boundaries because of love of neighbor. When one contemplates an action at this time of pandemic, the question is, “Is it helpful for my neighbor?” Whatever the time, that is the question always. Elie Wiesel said, “Because you suffer, we are.”

Christians should lead the way in this understanding of freedom. As I listened to our governor, I was proud of our church. You have been fantastic in placing neighbor first. We have been faithful with masks, sanitizing, and distancing. It is a difficult time, but your faithfulness eases the burden for everyone.

There are numerous reasons to wear a mask: a mask hides any food caught in our teeth, a mask keeps our face warm on a cold morning, a mask protects the wearer, a mask shows love of neighbor, and a mask demonstrates we are part of a larger community.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 11.6.20

The voting is done, and we wait on the count and results. During this time the calls for healing of our country have begun. There is acknowledgement that we are very divided, and we need to come together. Sometimes the speaker seems to think that this acknowledgement and desire are sufficient for healing. It seems so easy.

We know from personal experience that healing is neither easy nor painless. Surgery, recovery, and rehabilitation are lengthy and exhausting. Chemotherapy and radiation are often sickening. Frequently healing involves more suffering on the journey to health and wholeness. When we remember the healing which Christ brings, we remember it in terms of redemptive suffering. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5).

If we are serious about healing, we must bear in mind that it is a commitment which demands sacrifice and humility. We tend to think this is required for the other guy, but it is definitely true for me. The healings which Jesus performed were more than cures, they were transformations. If we are serious about healing, we should be ready to be changed. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We take the first step; we don’t wait for the other person.

The divide in our country is aggravated by how we think and speak of the other. We have objectified and demonized each other. The well-known poem “For everything there is a season” in the Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, is a series of paired opposites. Born/die, plant/reap, weep/laugh. The opposite for “a time to heal” is “a time to kill.” As I think about the speeches, articles, and ads for the campaign, each side accused the other of essentially killing the country. The campaign was a time for killing language. If we are serious about healing, now is the time for healing language.

This is a long quotation from Joan Chittister’s There Is a Season, but it is worth reading to the end.

There are two obstacles to being healed. The first lies in our attachment to the pain. We cannot heal ourselves of the pains to which we cling. We have to want to be healed. We cannot wear injustice like a red badge of courage and hope to rise from it. Even before we are vindicated, even before restitution comes – if it ever comes – we ourselves must move beyond it, outside of it, despite it.

Healing depends on our wanting to be well. I may not forget the blows I have suffered in life, but I must not choose to live under their power forever. Most of all, I must not choose to imprison myself in my own pain. Whatever has mutilated us – the betrayal, the dishonesty, the mockery, the broken promises - there is more to life than that. The first step of healing, then, is to find new joy for myself to tide me through the terror of the abandonment. It is time to get a life instead of mourning one. When the beating is over, there is nothing to do but to get up and go on, in a different direction to sure, but on, definitely on.

The second step in healing is to find new ideas in which to live. Whatever we needed before the breakpoint came – security, love, connectedness, certainty, identity - we must find it someplace else. We must put our hope in risk and find it challenging, in self and find it strong, in newness and find it enough.

The third step to healing is to trust ourselves to someone else just when we think we cannot trust anyone or anything at all. Just when we are not sure who the enemy really is, we must risk confidence in someone again. It is a false and hollow cure that ends with a sterile handshake. Healing comes for both the beaten and the intellectually bound when they step across the lines in their minds and hope that this time, in this person, in this situation, they will find the acceptance, the enlightenment, needed to join the human
community one more time (pp.49-50).

Healing is about a new level of compassion. It finds the other important. And it finds importance in one’s own life.

I’ll close with a prayer from the United Methodist healing service.

May the power of God’s indwelling presence heal you [and our nation] of all illnesses – of body, mind, spirit, and relationships- that you may serve God with a loving heart. Amen.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 10.30.20

PASTOR JOHN’S MUSING 10.30.2020

During the Comprehensive Campaign our church’s prayer team has created numerous opportunities for prayer. On Wednesdays, from noon-1pm, and 6:30-7:30pm, the sanctuary is open for prayer and meditation. There are prayer stations and hymns played on the piano. It is wonderful to sit in the quiet sanctuary, center on God, and unburden oneself. Team members have also been posting prayers for our church on Realm.

During our worship services, members of the team have led us in both prayers for the campaign and the prayers of the church. Last Sunday Shannon Poole offered the prayers. I was deeply moved by the honesty and faith of her prayer. I was especially impacted knowing that she experiences the stress that all parents of small children do and that she lost her job during the pandemic. This is her prayer. Thank you, Shannon.

Dear Creator,

During these unknown times and with the fear we have in our hearts, we pray that we turn to you.

We do not know what this COVID pandemic will look like, who our elected officials will be, and really anything in the future.

We pray we will not be gripped with fear. Fear of how our schools will conduct learning, fear of our economy being shut down and people losing jobs, fear of the virus spreading, fear of how the holidays will look. Knowing you means we don’t have to know the future. Remind us of the truth and help us walk in faithfulness and unity together.

As we feel the world spin out of control, grant us grace to trust you. Help us as a nation to vote with your principles of integrity and wisdom. Please bless and protect all of the politicians running for office. Remind us that even if the ground crumbles from underneath our feet, we have no reason to fear, for you will support us.

Remind us of your truths and help us walk in faithfulness and unity together. Amen.

Hope you are safe and well.

Musing 10.23.20

Why are you cast down, my soul,

Why groan with me?

Hope in God; I will praise God still,

my savior and my God.

Psalm 42:6

For several weeks I have asked my soul that question. It is not difficult to answer. The election ugliness continues, and November 3, doesn’t promise to be the end of it. Congress continues to be intractably divided. Cable news continues to be angry. COVID continues. Instead of abating, it increases. Schooling continues to be chaotic. Families continue to be stressed. Murders in our city continue. There is ample reason to be cast down and groan.

This verse can be read as an FAQ. The first two lines are the question. The last two are the answer. The question is easy to ask. The answer, hope in God, is hard to accept. It seems simplistic and naïve. It can be dismissive and facile. When I read the psalms, I tend to think that the lines are read with no time gap. I assume that the psalmist moves instantaneously from question to answer; there is no pause. Asked and answered. Next question, please. Reading it that way does justice to neither the question nor the answer. It may have taken the psalmist hours, days, or weeks to answer the question. He/she probably wrestled a long time with the question. Why would we think that the psalmist didn’t struggle as long with being cast down as we do? A quick answer in matters of faith is too often a shallow answer.

We need to take the time to explore our groaning. Much of my groaning comes from leaving God out of my troubles. I try to solve them by myself. This makes me a practical atheist. What I wrote in the first paragraph is realistic and true, yet it omits God. If I omit God, I don’t hope in God. If I omit God, I don’t’ praise God. If I omit God, God cannot possibly be my savior and God. If I omit God, something else will be my savior and god. To include God opens my eyes to what is praiseworthy. It sets my feet on a different road. It expands my resources for support. It places my life in the hands of the one whose love is stronger than death.

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