Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Handyman

Stephen King apparently referred to Bentley Little as the "horror poet laureate," which is no faint praise. But I was rather disappointed with The Handyman. The plot passed muster on the surface:
Young Daniel Martin and his family encounter a creepy guy who builds them a house, but the house brings sadness and death. Come to find out, this same guy has done this in many places for many families, always to disastrous effect. As an adult, when Daniel discovers his wasn't the only experience of Frank W, he is determined to get to the bottom of it. What ensues, naturally, is horror (Stephen King's compliment pretty much clued us in on this one).

Despite the many diversions, flashbacks, and parallel stories, Little moves the plot along. It's not until the very end that the reader realizes the problem: Despite the intricate detail, there's actually far too little preparation for the climax. The description of Daniel's final encounter with Frank and all he has wrought happens much too suddenly, is not described in enough depth, and comes to far too quick a conclusion.

The Handyman rolls a ⚃. Good writing, entertaining, but it comes up short in the end.

God Has Gone Up

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
—Psalm 47:5-7

Christians think of the 47th Psalm—most specifically Psalm 47:5—as referring to the Ascension of Christ. Calvin certainly interpreted it this way as well:
"When this ceremony was performed in old time, it was just as if a king, making his entrance among his subjects, presented himself to them in magnificent attire and great splendor, by which he gained their admiration and reverence. At the same time, the sacred writer, under that shadowy ceremony, doubtless intended to lead us to consider another kind of going up more triumphant—that of Christ when he ascended up far above all heavens [Eph 4:10], and obtained the empire of the whole world, and armed with his celestial power, subdued all pride and loftiness."

In practice, the "going up" of God probably involved the carrying of the ark of the covenant to its proper place in the tabernacle—the ark being the sign of God's presence in Israel's midst. And when I think about that, what is the sign of God's presence in me, and in the midst those I worship with? When I witness to those signs—healing of sickness, pardon for sin, love when I am a jerk, courage when I am a coward, and hope when all hope has been lost—whether in the midst of the congregation or in my daily life, then I am carrying a modern-day ark to its proper place, and in me, God is lifted up.

Help me to discover the signs of your presence in my life, O God, and in all the ways that I carry your presence about with me, may your Name be lifted up, your values be honored, and your justice be advanced in a world that needs to know you; in Jesus' Name. Amen.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Clap Your Hands

Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
—Psalm 47:1-2

The church I currently serve loves to clap—especially for music, but for many other things as well. This is fine, I suppose, but at a certain point, all the applause becomes meaningless. Maybe I could apply here something Jesus said in a different context: You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot [Matt. 5:13]. In other words, some things are special, and when we spread them too thin, waste them unnecessarily, or fail to appreciate their true meaning, then we're in danger of making common that which should be special. That's my opinion, as unpopular as it may seem, of applause in church.

Applause in the Bible is a different matter. There, it's a rare occurrence. It's reserved for that which is truly special, and when people clap, they're acknowledging something spectacular. In the psalms, for example, hand-clapping occurs twice. And of those two times, one of them is metaphorical, for when in the 98th Psalm the floods clap their hands, we know that this is simply a figure of speech. Thus Psalm 47:1 is the only place where people are called upon to clap their hands in the entire psalter—the book of the Bible where we find all sorts of praise. For example, musical instruments as a way of showing praise are found dozens of time in the psalms alone.

But applause is reserved for God—specifically as an acknowledgment of God's sovereignty over all the earth. To clap for God is to belong to God—not as slaves or serfs, but as joyful children who are part of something truly special.

May your greatness, O God, make me truly joyful. And may the joy I reserve for you alone influence the rest of my life. For only when I am happy in you can my outlook be truly positive. Amen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Good News & Bad News

The Gospel is only good news if you embrace the transformation it brings.


The last enslaved African Americans to hear of the end of slavery were in Texas. They got the news on June 19, 1865—two months after the end of the Civil War, and 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This day came to be known as Juneteenth. To remember this important holiday, here's Committed's rendition of Lift Every Voice, the song often referred to as the "Black National Anthem."

Be Still and Know

Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.
—Psalm 46:10

I have always imagined that everyone is being addressed by the words, "Be still, and know that I am God." And if this is the case, it's a fine message. In the midst of my fevered days and fast-paced life, true meaning is found in quiet and prayer and acknowledging that God is the Creator and I am but a creature.

But Calvin reminds me of the actual context of this verse, which is warfare and strife—the kind of strife that only God has the power to end. And in that context, "Be still, and know that I am God," has a different emphasis—namely that God is speaking to those who prey upon the people of God.

"In doing injury to the saints they do not consider that they are making war against God. Imagining that they have only to do with mortals, they presumptuously assail them, and therefore the prophet here represses their insolence; and that his address may have the more weight, he introduces God himself as speaking to them."

In this day and age, I believe we must apply Calvin's interpretation to a situation in which those with money and power and influence use their vast resources to inflict pain on the least among us—the sick, the underprivileged, the immigrant, the homeless child—for all these are currently under attack. Never have Walt Kelly's words in the Pogo comic strip (1970) been more true than they are at this moment in the USA: "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heat of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm. Amen.
—John Greenleaf Whittier

Monday, June 18, 2018

He Breaks the Bow

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
—Psalm 46:9

At the beginning of this psalm, the earth is in turmoil—seemingly because of natural disasters—yet God's people are not afraid. And here in v. 9 we see the culmination of more chaos, this being raging war. But, as Calvin points out, our hope lies not in temporary truces, but "should look for peace from [God], even when the whole world is in uproar, and agitated in a dreadful manner."

I am discouraged, Lord. Peace seems so far away. Nation fights nation, and the issues that divide them seem insoluble. I long for the absence of war. Yet I know that that is not peace, for your shalom requires the presence of justice. Show us what shalom looks like that we may, by your power and wisdom, be makers of peace and workers of justice; in Jesus' Name. Amen.