But you, Lord…
The first eleven verses of Psalm 102 are too depressing for a dirge. The Psalmist is lonely, depressed, overwhelmed and sleepless. Everything is going wrong and it’s hard to imagine he will ever recover. And then… the clouds lift and he starts taking about his grandchildren. How did this happen? What led to the sudden about-face? In Hebrew, the pivot is captured in two words (in English, three) – “But you, Lord…” When the Psalmist was focusing on himself – which he had been doing during his lament – he was despondent. When he focused on the Lord, his perspective flips. God changes every equation. We do well to remember he makes all the difference: “But you, Lord…” May we lift our eyes. “But you, Lord!”
Names: “Buechner is my name. It is pronounced Beek-ner. If somebody mispronounces it in some foolish way, I have the feeling that what’s foolish is me. If somebody forgets it, I feel that it’s I who am forgotten. There’s something about it that embarrasses me in just the same way that there’s something about me that embarrasses me. I can’t imagine myself with any other name – Held, say, or Merrill, or Hlavacek. If my name were different, I would be different. When I tell you my name, I have given you a hold over me that you didn’t have before. If you call it out, I stop, look, and listen whether I want to or not. In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is Yahweh, and God hasn’t had a peaceful moment since.” Frederick Buechner
After Further Review: After further review, I realized that my comments last week about Lord Acton were clunky and easily misunderstood. In announcing that Lord Acton Was Wrong, which you can reread here, I was attempting to celebrate Jesus, who has all power and is not corrupted. Alas, that is not how it read. My apologies. And my thanks to the twenty-six of you who are policing my comments so carefully.
Question of the Week: What constitutes progress? Doing things faster? Living longer? Having more stuff? If so, you’d think there would be a lot more happy people around. I suspect our view of progress needs tweaking and we need to spend more time reflecting on how blessed we are.
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Dead Whales: After hearing a professor declare that the mission of the university is to “protect students from ideas they do not like,” and after learning that Stanford has 18,038 administrators and faculty for its 16,937 students, I’m inclined to agree with the pundit who said higher ed is a “dead whale washed up on the beach.” His point was that it’s so massive that a lot of creatures will be able to feed off of it for some time, but not forever. To be clear, there are some excellent schools out there staffed by wise administrators and godly faculty. But I am starting to think they are more rare than I understood. Expect substantial changes in higher ed. They are already underway. They will accelerate once everyone starts to smell the dead whale.
Quotes Worth Requoting: 1) “Jesus wasn’t nice, he really wasn’t. In response to the man who said, ‘I love what you have to say…but I’m just off to bury my father. I’ll catch up with you later,’ he replied, ‘Let the dead bury their dead.’ That’s not very nice. Piercing, powerful, true but not nice.” Bono in this podcast interview with Christianity Today’s Mike Cosper. (It’s worth a listen.); 2) “Gradually, though no one remembers exactly how it happened, the unthinkable becomes tolerable. And then acceptable. And then legal. And then applaudable.” Joni EarecksonTada
Good Job Shannon Sharpe. After countless examples of how not to do it – many delivered by pols – former Denver Bronco and current sports talk show host, Shannon Sharpe, does a pretty good job apologizing. You can watch it here.
WOTW: Honorable mention goes to chronic anxiety and polycrisis – the latter being the term dejour at Davos. I expected to select friend-shoring when I first saw it, but it turns out it’s more about the location of supply chains than it is about friends. That means the honors go to cognitive flexibility. I selected it not just in recognition of the hutzpah and cognitive flexibility of the person who coined it, but because at this moment we need new words for the term lying. The old ones are overused, shopworn and need a break.
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I Don’t Think it’s Just Me: I don’t struggle much with anger, anxiety or depression – all of which are on the rise. But I’m finding it necessary to spend more time in Bible reading and prayer to hold back despair. FWIW, I think I’m less bothered by any particular “bad trend line” than I am overwhelmed by the volume and velocity of culture. In ways previous generations could not imagine, we are being pushed, prodded, pursued, hounded, chased, deceived, manipulated, tempted, lobbied, cajoled, sold and spun nearly every moment we are awake. And the question is less “Who is doing this?” than “Who isn’t?” Marketers, podcasters, political pundits, news anchors and a dozen others are leveraging algorithms and increasingly invasive forms of technology to steer us down whatever path serves their agenda. What to do? We need to work to make sure our inner world is stronger than the outer one. And that means playing offense – i.e., Bible reading and prayer.
Heroes: We do ourselves no favors when we think of heroes as wise and settled. They are more like Frodo, who – though lonely, scared and confused – stated, “I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.” Heroes almost never think of themselves as heroes.
Without Comment: 1) According to World Watch: “The number of religiously motivated killings in Nigeria jumped from 4,650 in ’21 to 5,014 in ’22 – making up 89% of all religiously motivated killings worldwide;” 2) The percentage of U.S. workers who are members of a union is at an all-time low of 10.1%, compared to a high of 20.1% in 1983; 3) The Army fell 25% short of its 2022 recruitment goals, the biggest miss since the draft ended in 1973; 4) 95% of upper-income moms are married; 76% of middle-income moms are married and only 35% of lower-income moms are married; 5) Between 1776 and 2017 the U.S. was at war for 222 of the 239 years; 6) The percentage of married households with children has declined from 37% in 1976 to 21% today; 7) Break dancing will be one of the new Olympic sports; 8) Remote work saves the average American 72 minutes per day, much of which is spent doing extra work; and 9) According to a WAPO survey, “The most meaningful and happiness-inducing activities are religious and spiritual,” followed by “the second-happiest activity – sports, exercise and recreation.”
Closing Prayer: Good God, May we confess your name to the end. May we emerge unsullied and glorious from the traps and dark powers of this world. As you have bound us together in love and peace, and as, together, we have persevered through times of hardship, may we also rejoice together in your heavenly kingdom. Amen. (Cyprian of Carthage 200 – 258)