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Written by Drew Hart Tuesday, 23 July 2013 00:00

I have been asked to explain why the black community is so frustrated by the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial. On one hand, from my vantage point, the frustration ought to be obvious to anyone who is familiar with the black experience in America. However, I also know that we still live in a deeply racially segregated society which has especially fragmented knowledge and awareness of the lived experience of African American communities within the consciousness of dominant culture. This lack of rubbing shoulders in meaningful ways, along with the forgetfulness and inability to contextualize the present time with the long ongoing realities that brought us up to this point, results in nothing more than a disorienting confusion for some around why people have responded so profoundly to Trayvon Martin’s killing.

Therefore, what seems obvious to those within the black community, and to many people around the world who have watched this case with curiosity, still remains blurry for many who are a part of the dominant culture and have the privilege of not needing to understand the deep ongoing pains and concerns of the only people group in America to be brought to this land not seeking freedom but rather bound by the dehumanizing chains of American chattel slavery. To not know or care about the actual frustrations of African Americans, and to choose to make straw men arguments rather than to be disciplined in actually hearing the voice of those that cry out, leads us to our current question: ‘Why are black people responding now with such frustration?’

It was 1981, in Mobile, Alabama, when Michael Donald (an African American) was walking home and was randomly chosen and abducted by two white men. He was terribly beaten. Eventually, they fulfilled their purpose in being there for the night by tying a noose around his neck and lynching him. This is generally considered the last recorded lynching of a black man in the United States.

But we must remember that, even after slavery ended at the end of the 19th century and we moved into the 20th century, a long sustained violence against black life erupted into the fabric of American society. Black people needed to know their place and to realize that black life was dispensable, so lynching became the perfect symbolic tool of terror. After slavery, there were over 5,000 recorded lynchings in America; young black men of course endured the brunt of that senseless violence, usually without any legal protection or pursuit of conviction by the authorities.

On top of that, let us remember Rosewood, Tulsa, Omaha, Atlanta, and Chicago. Each place had massive riots or massacres in the early 20th century in which white citizens attacked black communities, often resulting in many deaths. During all of the violence and terror, rarely were white people held accountable for their actions. Michael Donald’s lynching ended a long and painful era of unashamed overt white terrorism and violence against black people in mass, but the memory of this phase of our history is still fresh in our consciousness.

In 1955, some white men grabbed 14 year old Emmitt Till from his uncle’s house where he was visiting. They were angry because he whistled at a white woman, so they took and tortured this child, gouging out one of his eyes and beating him until his face was unrecognizable. After the torture was complete, they shot him and tied a heavy cotton gin around his neck and dropped him in the river. When the details of the crime were released, the black community was outraged. It’s not that things like this hadn’t happened before, because lynchings were commonplace in the early 20th century. It is just that people had had enough. This moment is considered to be an important part in re-galvanizing the Southern Freedom movement.

Why were people angry and frustrated? It was about the 350 years of having their lives be deemed as worthless and invaluable. It was the 350 years of having no justice in the courts. It was the 350 years of having their cries and pains be dismissed. And yes, even back in the 50s and 60s, most white people responded to polls believing that race wasn’t a serious problem. This currently seems ridiculous, but people do not realize that those same societal blinders often remain today in those that deny that race impacts American life profoundly.

When Zimmerman was not found guilty (of anything) in the courts, it was in many ways just one more slap in the face. We are a peculiar people. We were slaves in the ‘Land of the Free’. So now, Trayvon represents all those black bodies that have been violated over the past 400 years. Trayvon represents the way in which black men now are always seen with a gaze of suspicion and criminality. In my own lifetime, Trayvon represents James Byrd, Rodney King, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo, and many others who suffered for their unforgivable crime of merely being black in America.

Trayvon represents those who are currently being humiliated under the Stop-And-Frisk policies that statistics have proven are almost exclusively harassing (often over and over again) innocent black and Latino youth who ultimately have no weapons or drugs on them when searched. And Trayvon represents what Michelle Alexander has exposed as The New Jim Crow, for its proven discriminatory track record of locking up thousands of young black men for nonviolent drug possession and handing down harsher sentences for black and brown youth. This is so, even though serious research points to, despite our stereotypes, an equal percentage of usage and selling of drugs within the white community as that of the black community.

So, I hope it is understood that this had everything to do with Trayvon as our symbolic son and the pain that has touched every black family over and over again in every generation, for almost four hundred years. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. So Trayvon, like Emmitt Till did over 50 years ago, has sparked a people to mourn and to stand up for truth and justice in a land that has claimed those ideals but refused to practice them. That is why so many are frustrated and have had enough. And the black community is now looking to see how self professed Christians will respond to a people that are struggling, hurting, and continually violated. Will it be a response of solidarity with those on the margins like Jesus exhibited or will it be apathy?

Consider reading the post I wrote two days after the verdict which explicitly engages how my faith in Jesus offers hope despite a painful verdict. You can find it at http://drewgihart.com/2013/07/15/pain-medicine-trayvon-simon-of-cyrene-and-jesus/.


Drew Hart studied Biblical Studies at Messiah College for his B.A. and is a MDiv graduate from Biblical Seminary. He is currently a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is also an associate pastor at Montco Bible Fellowship, in Lansdale, PA. He blogs at www.drewgihart.comand his twitter handle is @DruHart.

 

Written by Malcolm Walls Monday, 22 July 2013 00:00

In 1856, Dred Scott petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom and they ruled against him stating that the Bill of Rights did not apply to African-Americans.

In 1955, Emmett Louis Till, an African-American young man, was murdered in Mississippi at the age of 14 for reportedly flirting with a white woman. The jury found the men involved in the murder “Not Guilty”.

In 1963, Medgar Evers, was killed by Byron De La Beckwith who was convicted thirty years later after the crime.

In 1991 Rodney King was brutally beaten by police officers. Though the beating was video recorded, three of the four officers involved were initially acquitted of the charges.

Later in 1991, Latasha Harlins, a 15 year old African-American, was murdered by Soon Ja Du over a bottle of orange juice at a store. She was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and it was recommended that she serve a 16 year prison sentence but in the end she was sentenced to probation.

In 2013, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman who was also found “Not Guilty”.

As an African American male, when I think of the aforementioned, it is obvious that there are systemic racial issues that rest at the core of this great nation. After reading comments and blogs it has become clear that those who are not African-American, though they sympathize with African-Americans, will never truly understand why the “Not Guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman makes us so upset.

The frustration that is felt is not just from this trial but it is from the previous trials and unjust experiences that we as a race have had to endure. This verdict is a reminder that the playing field is not even. It reminds me that the judicial system has racism flowing through its veins. It reminds me that people still view African-American men as thugs. It reminds me that as an African-American father, even if I raise my son to honor God, achieve academic excellence, to be respectful, and he does all of that, he is still prone to be profiled as a criminal or thug based solely upon his clothing and the color of his skin.

It reminds me of every time I was followed in a store and wrongly accused of shoplifting. It reminds me of the times, growing up in the south, when I was called every derogatory word an African-American man can be called, and then being told to accept it because that is what I am. It reminds me of the times I have been stopped by police for “Driving While Black”. It reminds me that neither Justin Beiber nor Mark Zuckerberg has been classified as a hoodlum when wearing a hoodie. It reminds me that Michael Vick got two years in prison for killing a dog and Zimmerman was found “Not Guilty” for killing an African-American young man. It reminds me that most of the men in the prison system are African-American.

Those who are not African-American were not faced with these reminders as the verdict was read because they have not lived this life nor been treated in such a demeaning fashion. To understand why this verdict has caused such an uproar amongst African-Americans, everyone who is not African-American must walk in our shoes and experience all of the hate, mistreatment, and injustice that many if not all of us have had to endure. Then and only then will they begin to understand the pain of this verdict.

This country has had a long history of racism within a judicial system where African-Americans get the short end of the stick. This is the beginning of the conversation of why many are upset. The emotions are deeply rooted and just when we think there will be justice, the proverbial rug is once again pulled from underneath us.

But why should a seminary address this issue? Jesus said in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. Within the gospel of Jesus Christ there is a mandate for justice and to see those oppressed experience freedom. This freedom includes the freedom to walk with skittles and Arizona Iced Tea, without fear of being stereotyped or even murdered. As those sent by Jesus, it should compel us to begin to address systematic issues of injustice.

If we fail to do this and remain silent, then we too become part of the problem.


Pastor Malcolm C. Walls, Jr., is Director of Urban Recruitment and Student Services at Biblical Seminary.

   

Written by Kyuboem Lee Friday, 19 July 2013 00:00

Often, I find myself preaching to the choir with regard to urban mission--these folks don’t need convincing that urban mission is an important and urgent agenda item for the Church and we need to do all we can to learn about urban mission if the Church is to be faithful to God’s mission.

But others will need more convincing. “I won’t be moving into the city to live and minister there; my role is a pastor in a suburban church or a small town context. Why should I care about urban mission? My plate is overflowing as it is.” I will try to speak to them through this series of blog posts. If you are the choir, perhaps you will be find these posts useful as points of apologetics for urban mission. (You can find the first post here, and the second post here.)

Micah’s well-known charge that sums up the duty of the faithful lists three commands: “To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) This charge corresponds to the two greatest commands--to love God and to love neighbor. Loving neighbor, then, is not mere sentimentality nor random acts of kindness. Rather, love for neighbor specifically translates to the doing of justice and the practicing of mercy. In other words, justice and mercy is essential to Christian discipleship, not peripheral.

Urban mission has traditionally led the way for the Church in the area of justice and mercy. We can think of William Booth and his Salvation Army, which found its reason for being in the great social needs and sufferings found in the British cities during the Industrial Revolution. We can think of John Calvin’s ministry in the city of Geneva to lead relief efforts for the masses of wartime refugees and Thomas Chalmer’s leadership of diaconal ministry in the city of Glasgow. We can think of Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta and John Perkins in Mendenhall and Jackson, Mississippi. We could go on. The point is, ministry in the city has often pioneered justice and mercy efforts to love neighbor in tangible and strategic ways, and the field of urban mission has therefore much to teach the Church in this regard.

There is much to say as a follow-up, but for the sake of this post, I will briefly mention three thoughts:

One, the density of the city brings God’s people into much closer and more direct contact with human suffering and structures of injustice. Pastors in suburban and exurban communities regularly express how people who are struggling with poverty and lack of basic needs are often very hard to find in their communities. This does not mean poverty does not exist in the suburbs; it is however often invisible there to those in more privileged circumstances.

This closer contact with communities of need is a necessity for Christian spirituality. It keeps the faith real. These urban communities are where the Church needs to be at, not primarily for the sake of those the Church is serving but for the Church’s own spiritual vitality. Mercy and justice need to be an ongoing Christian practice, not merely something you do elsewhere during a mission trip. Remember, to do justice and to love mercy is not optional or an add-on to Christian discipleship; these are a daily lived reality in the kingdom of God.

Two, there is a surging interest in and activism surrounding social justice among young evangelicals, as evidenced at the recent Justice Conference. This is a welcome development in many ways; however, are the young activists drawing from and building on the experience and theology of older saints who have spent much time practicing and reflecting on justice? Sadly, the answer is often no. Evangelical churches who purport to be committed to the authority of Scripture have often withdrawn from the arenas of social justice. Without a thoroughgoing Christian tradition and theology of justice readily on hand, younger evangelicals may turn to what is more familiar in our culture--humanistic traditions of social justice that is devoid of a God-centered soul. This situation presents a challenge and an opportunity for Christian leaders to disciple a new generation in the faith; however, are they up to the task? Learning from urban mission’s rich trove of practical experience and theological reflection on justice and mercy, it seems to me, is a priority for everyone concerned about Christian discipleship in the 21st century.

Three, cities are where the cultural structures of economic, religious, and political institutions and networks are concentrated. These structures, or “powers,” can do much to foster a just and righteous society. But they are fallen, just as each individual human person is. Therefore they perpetuate grave injustices that rob the human community of life as God had intended for it. The field of urban mission is concerned with how the Church may engage these urban structures or powers for the sake of faithful witness to the coming kingdom of righteousness ruled by the just King. The question of how the Church ought to be salt and light in this urban world--how it will realize its world-formative vocation--is a vital and urgent one.

The call to do justice and love mercy requires a faithful theological reflection and thoughtful practice. The field of urban mission is an invaluable resource for the Church today.

(This is probably a good place for a commercial: I will be teaching an online course, “Justice & Mercy,” in the fall term. If you are interested in taking the class, please contact us. We will be exploring above themes and much more.)


Dr. Kyuboem Lee serves as a lecturer of Urban Mission at Biblical Seminary. He is the founding pastor of Germantown Hope Community Church in Philadelphia, and the General Editor for the Journal of Urban Mission (http://jofum.com).

 

   

Written by Susan Disston Wednesday, 17 July 2013 00:00

In the missional approach to thinking theologically, the mission of God is used as an interpretive motif for understanding the triune God. Through this missional motif we meet the God of the Bible whose mission is being achieved through God’s people—in and through the work of the church—for the sake of the world. The church participates with God in God’s initiative of love to redeem the world through Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16). “Missions is about simultaneously entering into the inner life of God as a missionary God as well as entering into the world where the triune God is actively at work.” (Tennent, Invitation to World Missions, 61)

Missional theology’s “translation principle” flows from the idea that in the incarnation of God the Son, the triune God entered into the world and engaged in translation before God sent the church into the world with the gospel message. God used human flesh as the medium of translation. In so doing, the divine character of God was made known to us in the language of humanity, a language that we understand or, at least, relate to. We see this articulated in John’s gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning…. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn. 1: 1-2, 14) We see it also in Jesus’ teaching in response to the disciples’ entreaty to be shown the Father, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn. 14:9)

As in any translation from one language to another, the particulars of one language are translated into the particulars of another language. In the incarnation, Jesus came to the world in a particular place, at a particular time, and to a particular culture that existed amid diverse other cultural, political, and ethnic groups. In the incarnation, we find a culture-specific revelation of God the Son.

The translation principle proposes that, in the same way, the gospel message is always a culture-specific message, and hence, the expectation that Christians can arrive at a “culture-neutral message” is erroneous. Instead the gospel message is, by God’s design, infinitely translatable. Rather than requiring assimilation to a cultural norm (a so-called “Christian culture”), bearers of the gospel can call people to into the kingdom of God as participants in creating their own expressions of authentic faith in Jesus Christ in their particular locale. This makes Christians both “indigenous” to their native culture where they reside and “pilgrims” in the world, that is, denizens of no particular culture except God’s kingdom.

It also means that no particular cultural expression of Christianity takes precedence over any other.  In fact there is a movement within the missional conversation toward a deeper ecumenism that finds common ground in the historic Christian confessions rather than in any particular cultural expression of the gospel or church. The great benefit of this is that this movement has the potential to bless all the cultures of the world. “Being in conversation with the global church will not only serve to enrich our own (Western) theological perspectives, but, more importantly, it will also lead us to a deeper understanding of …the apostolic faith that forms our common confession.” (Ibid, 43).

Biblical’s missional curriculum emphasizes the importance of the translation principle and its implications for communicating the gospel with cultural awareness and sensitivity. It shares the missional conversation’s movement toward Christian unity that respects diversity because it finds its center in shared historic confessions rather than in a so-called Christian culture. Four of the six goals of the master of divinity program capture the importance of theological education that is engaging culture: both locally and globally. As one graduate wrote, “I am seeking to build a method for theology that is rooted in a relationship with God and that thrives on dialogue. I believe theology should breathe life and unity among God’s people.” This graduate and others are joining lively conversations and engaging in the translation work of effectively communicating the gospel to people in their midst.

Dr. Susan Disston is the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Biblical Seminary and teaches in the Doctor of Ministry program.

 

   

Written by Charles Zimmerman Monday, 15 July 2013 00:00

Where have they gone & where are they now? 

Everybody – students, faculty, staff, graduates – knows Wayne!  I first met Wayne as the teacher of my first Greek class and then would see him regularly as the guy who took my tuition checks.  Eventually, I got to know Wayne as a lunch companion and friend.  

So in answer to our question – where have they gone?  He is here; he never left! 

I started Biblical the fall of 1975 graduating with an MDiv in 1979.  I met my soon-to-be wife, Jill, at Biblical in the fall of 1978.  She is a 1980 MDiv graduate.  I guess you could say that our marriage was historic in that we were Biblical’s first “student marriage.”  (At least I believe that to be the case.)  We’ve just celebrated our 34thwedding anniversary and although we haven’t done anything since then that’s been particularly historic the Lord has blessed us over those 34 years in many, many ways – not the least of which is giving us three terrific kids.  All are married to equally terrific spouses and have given us five perfect (well, you know) grandchildren - with number six to arrive in September.

My intent on coming to Biblical was to take a sabbatical from my business career to learn the Bible and how to study it.  Biblical’s bookkeeper left her position in the spring of 1979.  Because Jill had a year of seminary remaining I agreed to take over the bookkeeping duties for that year.  In the Lord’s providence that temporary job turned into a career move. I’ve been a part of Biblical ever since, for the last 30 years or so as controller.  Jill was a stay-at-home mom until our kids reached college age.  Tuition bills required a second income!  She continues to work, currently in the bulk mailing/printing field.  While she likes her job most days she thoroughly enjoys every Sunday that she teaches her junior high Sunday School class at our church, Graterford Bible Fellowship.

I have a lot of fond memories of my time as a student as well as a few not so fond.  Any TVT test falls in that latter category.  I still have nightmares about them.  Thanks to Joe Basile, Steve Will, and Ed Welch for keeping me sane when things became overwhelming from time to time.

I will never forget Mr. Dunzweiler being able to draw free-hand a perfect circle on the blackboard; Mr. Harding reminding us that Ethan’s other name was Jeduthan; Mr. Grauley telling us not to worry about following the outline when putting up an overhead; listening to a TVT lecture via cassette tape recorder; Dr. Newman’s same-day return of tests. I valued the times spent playing basketball and tennis with Dr. Vannoy, Mr. Grauley and Bob Peterson.  I treasured the many pizza dinners spent with Dr. Newman when the rest of the dorm students were eating chicken croquettes.  I remember fondly Mr. Clark’s below-the-radar way of handling the many not-so glamorous tasks.

Most of all I thank the Lord for allowing me to be a part of Biblical over these years.  I particularly value the opportunity to study under such a Godly and humble faculty. I thank the Lord, too, for the dedicated staff (Rita Mangum, Wendy Ribeca, Anita Wetzel, Mrs. Rosser, Miss Tredick, Mr. Koontz, Mrs. Wood, Nancy Hawkins, Dave McCarty, Marilyn Mellon) that made everything come together.  My apologies for anyone I’ve neglected to mention. There is no doubt that the 1970’s faculty and staff are Biblical’s version of Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation.


Charles Zimmerman is the Thomas V. Taylor Professor of Practical Theology.  He also serves as Teaching Pastor at Calvary Church in Souderton.  He is married to Kim and they have two daughters, Ashley and Megan.

 

 

 

   

Written by Dan LaValla Monday, 08 July 2013 00:00

With June’s news headlines focusing on the IRS scandal of targeting conservative groups and Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s practices of storing telephone metadata, email, and Internet usage of Americans, and reflecting on our Independence Day celebrations a few days ago, I have been thinking a great deal about personal freedoms and liberty. Public polls expressing sentiment on whether Snowden is a traitor to the U.S. or a defender of public interest and personal freedoms do not reveal a clear majority; even members of congress have been speaking out in support on both sides of the issue. Regardless of where you land, one must take into account one’s views on mass surveillance or “surveillance state” (the term being used in recent news stories), global terrorism and one’s levels of fear, trust, and safety.

On June 20th, I attended a plenary session of the 2013 Annual Conference of the American Theological Library Association. In his presentation, Dr. Peter W. Ochs, the Edgar M. Bronfman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies at the University of Virginia, discussed Psalm 42, with specific attention given to the phrase “Deep calls to deep” in verse 7. He explained that the psalmist’s reference to “the deep” is dealing with the passions of the heart and a religious experience that is not always fully comprehensible in our natural worldly knowledge, perceptions and understandings. His presentation was accompanied by slides of wars and impacts of wars related to battles over religious ideologies that had or are taking place around the world. No major religious group is innocent: Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Atheism, and Christianity.

The premise of Dr. Ochs’ presentation, “Deep Calls to Deep:  Information, Reason, and Wisdom in Inter-Religious Communication,” is that conflicts based on religious ideologies occur (I would add as do wars based on political and economical ideologies and the three are difficult to isolate from one another) because one group wants to force its ideals and views of truth and knowledge onto others. If people learned to communicate in the spiritual depths referred to by the psalmist in Psalm 42, then peaceful inter-religious communication could be achieved on a global scale.

While I agree with Dr. Ochs in that, if people did not try to force their own ideologies (religious or otherwise) onto others, there would be less conflict and increased chances for peaceful coexistence, there are many points to refute from a Christian perspective that explains the unlikely feasibility of such an ideal. However, Dr. Ochs’ presentation did get me thinking about Jesus’ own actions and teachings while on earth, which were accompanied by truth, freedom, liberty, and the lack of forced obedience.

Jesus stated that God the Father anointed Him with the Spirit to proclaim freedom for prisoners and to set the captives free from the bondage of sin and death Luke 4:18 & Romans 8:1-4. Yet, He also taught us to fulfill our civic duties (Matthew 22:15-21) as did Paul (Romans 13:1-7). Further, He did not come to force people to follow Him or bring God’s Kingdom by force (John 18:33-37) and taught his disciples to simply move on from towns that rejected them (Matthew 10:1-20) for others that would accept them and embrace the Gospel.

Now I do not think this means we can sit idly by and not confront despots like Hitler and terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida. It does mean we cannot force the acceptance of truth and real faith onto anyone. For Christians who truly learn to believe, communicate, and live with God in the Spiritual Deep of the psalmist, there is true freedom and liberty in the presence of God’s inseparable truth and love. For in light of God’s omniscience, which is much more complete than any NSA or IRS database could ever achieve, even though He has a complete record of all of our beliefs and doubts, thoughts, words, and actions, whether noble or sinful, we find in Jesus mercy, forgiveness, love and acceptance which we should extend to all people around us!


Dan LaValla is Director of Library Services and Development Associate at Biblical. He is Chair of the Endowment Committee for the American Theological Library Association; he serves as vice chair of the Ministry Board and chair of the Missions Committee of First Baptist Church in Lansdale. He is very active in his community, coaching youth baseball and football and has served on several community boards. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/daniel-lavalla.

 

   

Written by David Lamb Friday, 05 July 2013 00:00

“O, NO! I have to write a blog for tomorrow.  I don’t need this right now.  There is too much going on right now.”  I had just looked at my calendar to realize that I had yet another thing to do.  My instant reaction was panic.  My son was graduating tomorrow.  I had meetings all day and night.  Relatives were visiting.  Biblical’s graduation was Saturday.  I still needed to figure out loans and financial aid for college.  I was falling behind on my writing schedule. 

In a word, Stress

But then I remembered the psalm I read this morning. 


A Song of Ascents. Of David.

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,

my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great

and too marvelous for me.

2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

like a weaned child with its mother;

my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

3 O Israel, hope in the LORD

from this time on and forevermore (Psalm 131 NRSV).


In a word, Calm

The psalms are prayers, and the author of this psalm begins by speaking directly to God and calling him by his personal name, YHWH (“O LORD”). 

The psalmist then explains to YHWH all about his humility.  (But is it humble to point out your humility?  I guess it’s OK when you’re talking to God.)  The psalmist’s heart and eyes aren’t too proud.  His focus is not on things too great or marvelous.  Currently, the psalmist’s focus is on God and not on the psalm (or blog?) he needs to write. 

What’s the result of the psalmist’s humble attitude?  He is like a weaned child with its mother.  Calm and secure, quiet and safe.    

If David wrote this (the Hebrew heading for this psalm could be translated “to David,” “for David,” or “of David”), it’s ironic to imagine a warrior like David as a child next to his mother’s side.   Ironic, but powerfully memorable

In ancient Israel, mothers typically nursed a child for two or three years.  A recently weaned child is no longer an infant, but is still not independent of its mother.  But hopefully, the weaned one will be less fussy.  At least the child in this psalm apparently isn’t in the midst of the “terrible twos.”   The child is content with mom.  Calm and secure, quiet and safe

The image of a weaned child is repeated twice in the same verse.  Let’s compare two translations of the end of verse 2: 

“My soul is like the weaned child that is with me” (NRSV).

“Like a weaned child is my soul within me” (ESV). 

I like literal translations, so I often prefer the usually more literal ESV, but here the NRSV is more literal.  The Hebrew here is literally, “Like the weaned child with me is my soul.”  Thus, the Hebrew supports the NRSV’s rendering. 

Why does it matter?  In the ESV, the psalmist is just making a comparison, but in the NRSV, the psalmist is speaking in the voice of a mother, from her perspective: “the weaned child that is with me.”  The image of a child and mother is brought one step closer to us as we hear the psalmist speak as a mother about the child on her lap.  Calm and secure, quiet and safe

How do we deal with the tension between the heading that associates the psalm with David and this verse which seems to speak in the voice of a mother?  We have three options.

  1. We assume that David wrote the whole thing, so he couldn’t have used a female voice (which is what several English translations appear to do).
  2. We assume David did not write it (perhaps the heading should read, “for David”?), so it could have been written by a woman.
  3. We decide there’s not enough textual evidence to decide definitively.

While I assume David wrote many psalms, people often base too much of their view of authorship on headings which are ambiguous at best.  I think it could have been written by a woman, many other biblical songs certainly were (Exo. 15:21; Judg. 5; 1 Sam. 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55), but it is impossible to say definitively based on this half-verse. 

In any case, there’s nothing like a mom to bring calm in the midst of stress, except God and God’s word.  The psalmist therefore tells Israel to hope in God now and forever.  The psalmist’s final exhortation here is valid for any of us in the midst of stress: Hope in God forever. 

Reflecting on Psalm 131 not only reduced my stress in the moment, it also gave me a topic to blog upon. 

It calmed my soul.

Where do you find other examples of maternal imagery in Scripture and how does it help us connect to God? 


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

   

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