Psalm 95 (The Venite, but only to verse 7)

A while back, while I was rocking the baby to sleep, he could not settle down. The usual songs seemed only to agitate him, and I had gone through every song I could possibly think of - from Christmas carols (in August) to commercial jingles. I mean, everything. So, as I was just about to completely lose it (but not in a way that might get me an interview with Nancy - I'm a Mommy, Now- Grace), the Venite came into my head. I know...you know you're a priest when....

Now, when I was in seminary, I was one of the few people who actually went to Morning Prayer EVERY morning (as opposed to my beloved friends and co-bloggers, who went maybe a combined total of 12 times during their three years there). By the middle of my first year, I came to depend on this routine of going to the chapel for starting off my day. The version of the Venite that is in the Hymnal (S-35, for you Episcopalians out there) was one we sang on a relatively regular basis. It was one of the few service music pieces I knew by heart for morning prayer, and actually liked (and it DID NOT come from Wonder Love and Praise, thank God-I wouldn't want to admit that).

So, I started to sing this Venite to the baby. Kind of slowly and quietly. And about a third of the way through, he relaxed and by the end (it's not that long), he was asleep. Amazing. It actually calmed me down, too.

This Sunday, in the RCL, we will have the opportunity to read (or chant it as we do in our church) Psalm 95. I know I should know this, but for whatever reason I didn't realize the Venite we sing in Morning Prayer is not ALL of Psalm 95, just the first seven verses. (Give me a break, I am a life-long Episcopalian, who are amazed at, and I quote another life-long Episcopalian, "how much the Bible quotes the Book of Common Prayer".) Of course when you look at the last four verses, I guess you could see why. Here, I'll paste them below:
8 Harden not your hearts,
as your forebears did in the wilderness, *
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah,
when they tempted me.
9 They put me to the test, *
though they had seen my works.
10 Forty years long I detested that generation and said, *
"This people are wayward in their hearts;
they do not know my ways."
11 So I swore in my wrath, *
"They shall not enter into my rest."
I guess ending on a note of vengeance isn't the best way to begin the day in morning prayer. Ending with "Oh, that today you would harken to his voice!" seems much gentler. Maybe more pointed, but gentler.

But some days, maybe I'd want to start with vengeance. Especially on those days when I have fought my way through redneck, Nascar traffic to find myself being tailgated by a humongous Ford F150 with the license plate that reads, "RNDZ TOY." All I have done and want to do is swear in my wrath. Or on those days when it takes my husband 15 minutes to gently put our son down in his crib as he drifts off to sleep, when the night before it took me two hours of scratching and thrashing to put him in his bed and sneak out of the room. Maybe on those days I'd want to curse the people who make things hard, who spit in God's face - who spit in MY face. Maybe my prayers would be more authentic.

That's why I love the Psalms. They're REAL. My friend calls them "revenge poems". People crying out in agony, anger, frustration, loneliness, isolation. But also lifting their voices in genuine praise, glorifying God and singing. That's real. None of these platitudes that we preachers like to end our sermons on when we get stuck..."Oh forget whatever I just said and remember, God loves you." None of this crap that floats around (nice imagery) about how much better one side is over the other, or how so-and-so (read Gays) are going to hell. But real struggles with the world. Real wrestling with our relationship with God. How God is or isn't. How he fails us, how we fail him. How the world just seems so darn frustrating and pointless, and what is God doing about it anyway? A spiritual director of mine once told me the best way to pray is to read the Psalms because you can always find one that will hit you where you are. For the most part, I've found that to be true.

Well, that's my thought for the day. I hear the soft chorus of "Mama Mama Mama" coming from upstairs, which is my call. Happy Lent, everyone!


So ... it wasn't Eve's fault? Adam, you bast--!

Time for a little re-visioning. When I sat down with my two best friends to start this blog, I had mad visions of changing the world with our witty comments and bulletproof arguments. But in the intervening time, it seems God had other ideas. Ideas like a rash of hospitalizations the likes of which I have never experienced (so far in 5 years of ordained ministry); ideas like 40 people from the neighboring church showing up for an Ash Wednesday service we never planned, publicized, or even scheduled. (I did it anyway and it turned out beautifully). Real ministry is a wonderful thing, even when--especially when--it demands more than you have to give. So instead of lengthy blog posts about the nature of sin, or article 37, I am forced to ramble as concisely as possible.

And after all, isn't brevity the soul of wit?

Or, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." (And, as Homer Simpson responded, "Takes one to know one! Swish!")

So, on to the topic:

I love reading Scripture--it's one of the parts of my job that does not get tiring. (Well, when I'm forced to read Scripture and do guided meditation, I get a strange urge to regurgitate. But any other time, I love reading Scripture).

I also love trail running. Trail running is a pasttime mainly for masochists and idiots like myself who find a perfectly good hiking trail and decide to run it. My legs and shoulders are asking me why, oh why, did I decide to run (not jog) 6.8 miles of steep, hilly forested Appalachian trail?

So what do reading Scripture and trail running have in common? The potential to trip you up. When I go trail running, I spend most of my time looking at the ground. There are rocks and roots just waiting to snag my foot and end my running days forever. There is a section of trail I run at least once a week, yet every time I run it, I find a new rock, a new root, a new rabbit hole under a pile of leaves. I really have to watch the ground like a hawk, so I could potentially run right into a black bear or a mountain lion, and end up on one of those "I Shouldn't Be Alive" shows, or gracing the local paper with the following headline:

Local Pastor Gets Mauled by Bear Due To Lack of Faith.

Yep. I live in the Bible belt.

Back on topic. Reading Scripture has the potential to trip you up, too. You can go over the same passage a thousand thousand times, and still find something you never noticed before. Most recently, I found myself having to preach on the First Sunday of Lent (Revised Common Lectionary). Ahh, the Garden of Eden. Original sin. Eve's fault. Really, is there anything more to say?

There is really only one interpretation we all have in our minds anyway--the snake tricked the woman, who then tricked her husband into eating the apple. The whole thing was the woman's fault, right? I mean, she got the worst punishment. All the man has to do is work hard forthe rest of his life. The woman has to go through agonizing, dangerous childbirth while her husband goes golfing and goes to office parties and diddles the secretary. Well, that's the reading that gets drilled into our heads by mainstream Christianity and even Western literature. It is the woman's fault. Adam just sinned by accident.

I can't begin to count the number of times I have heard this sentiment here in the backwoods of the South: "How come I gots to live with adigital sin? After all, it was a woman what et the apple first."

Desperate to take issue with this interpretation (which I learned in an Episcopal Church sunday school, by the way, at the tender age of 8, from a nice old lady in a hat), I ran roughshod over this Scripture passage (Genesis 2:15-3:7) several times, until I noticed this gem for the very first time (the italics are mine):

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food ... she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her.

So what was Adam doing while his wife--with whom he had become ONE FLESH, was being tempted unto death? Was Adam still in a state of such blissful, ignorant Paradise, that he did not know what his wife was doing? Or was Adam not willing to take the step himself, hoping to foist blame on his wife, with the knowledge of good and evil lodged in his gullet? (Blame everybody else is exactly what he did: "The woman YOU gave me as a companion ...") Sounds like Adam needs to get himself to a twelve step group.

I can almost see Adam, played, of course, by Steve Martin, saying, "Well, excuuuuuuuuse me!"

The truth is that Adam failed first. And the clue to this lies in the fact that, even though the woman ate the fruit first, their eyes were both opened at the same time, after they had both eaten the fruit. The two are one flesh, and Adam's sin made the woman's sin possible. Their destinies are tied together, as are their punishments--and perhaps the two will find grace as they help each other to bear them. (But wait till you meet their kids ...)

Now, obviously, there are many good (and many more not-so-good) theological explanations of original sin that do not seek to blame Eve. I'm not here to talk about that. After I have spent the day visiting someone in jail, the hospital, the psych ward, or a FEMA-rejected trailer, I'm not interested in esoteric proofs and such. I think I'm doing OK if, at the end of one of my sermons, Billy Bob Thornton comes up to me and says, "Mmmm-hmmm. I like the way you talk." Or perhaps Rip Torn: "Gol-darnit, pastor! You use your tongue purtier than a 20-dollar whore!"

So it seems that I have tripped up on a big root. It wasn't the woman's fault after all. Guess I'm going to have to shout it out in all the churches in the South. Hey folks! I just saw Adam, and guess what he was singing:

Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but I know it's my own damn fault.

(Sorry, Jimmy).