I have a confession to make…
This past weekend was the first time that I have opened and read the Bible, to satisfy my own interest, in a very long time. I have had little appetite to read the Scriptures for a while. That does not mean that they have become less meaningful for me. I also need to clarify that I have read the Bible for exploratory reasons. But I honestly can't remember the last time I read the Bible to satisfy my own curiosity. I have become accustomed to reading the text with an analytical eye so that I can apply what I read to material I would like to present. So in fairness for the legalists out there that might be reading this – I have been reading the Bible - Just not so much for my own interest.
My idea of what the Bible is, has changed over the last few years and so approaching the Bible, as I did this past weekend was awkward and clumsy. I had in truth forgotten to bring along any other meaningful reading material. (I had also forgotten to bring many other essentials but that's a long and embarrassing story.) So I tell you that I was rather sheepish when it dawned on me at 7 in the morning that the Bible was the only thing available to me to read. Of course I felt an all too familiar guilt at my last resort approach to reading the scriptures but I snuck into my RAM 50 and wiggled the book out so as not to wake the rest of the Friesen Hutterite clan.
I flipped through the pages wondering where I might land my gaze and start my reading. The perfectness of the morning nearly distracted me from my quest but my eagerness to read something anything dragged me headlong into the 119th psalm. I read I a little and I sipped my coffee. I read some more and within a dozen words the read was effortless. One thing I noticed though – what read felt too predictable. Of course I had read this passage before so I was familiar with the text. But I was trying to read this through a different lens – a more capricious –even careless- way. I was trying to read as I WAS NOT someone who had built a healthy career using the pages of this book as my MAIN resource. But the words were tumbling together and finding no footing as I bounced along the first few verses of the text. He was saying,
"I will keep your statutes, I will follow your ways, I will meditate on your precepts, I will walk in your ways". It sounded like he was very pious. He knew God's principles were the best and he knew should follow them and it sounded like he was very devout. And at first that was all I could hear. Then it seemed like the voice repeating so often somehow changed from a confession of devotion to a distinct desperation. Almost like when my son repeats the excuse over and over again more and more loudly trying to convince me that he should not be held responsible. Yikes! That felt new. I guess I felt like there was a connection between me and the writer of this poem. He was more real than I gave him credit for. Something genuine came through.
And then the word that made me take note – ALIEN. In verse nineteen the writer says, "I am only a foreigner in the land. Don't hide your commands from me!" What did feeling like an alien/foreigner/sojourner have in connection to God's laws and principles?
I have seen the idea of alien used to capture a theme for a conference or something. Usually when it is used – it has always borne a ill feeling for me. The connection to aliens is usually somehow tied to the idea that we are not really a part of this world (WE ARE JUST A PASSIN' THRU). The idea seems co-opted to reveal an escapist perspective on our lives here as followers of Christ. Rotten! But this seemed different!
It seemed like the writer here in the context of his repeated affirmations of the goodness of God's laws confessed his strained and even bewildered relationship to the world in which he was being asked to apply God's principles. He was saying, "Hey, I know your ways are good/cool/fine/right/perfect/important but there are many times when I am really confused about how they should apply to life on this earth." Its like, "I need to learn a new language that I desperately want to speak fluently but still can only buy bread and milk at the corner store."
And not unlike the awkwardness that happened a few hours later that morning. A gaggle of Hutterite boys had made their way to the campground to play in the river. Why not? Stripped down to their boxers they would hike through the campground up the river to jump in and float down to the beach. They chose to walk right past our campsite. Many times. On one occasion while I was prepping food for supper, I looked up as I heard them coming. I couldn't help smiling at the boys – some in their early teens – as they chirped to each other in their Germanic dialect. At one point they stopped and for several long moments I was deadlocked in a gaze with half a dozen of them. They looked at me – confounded no doubt at why a fat dude like me would be making food with my shirt off. I smiled at them thinking how out of place they seemed. We were all wondering about how the other lived. They were living and doing the same thing everyone else in the camp was doing – floating down the river – but they were clearly distinct. And though they kept to themselves – could help but wonder how they must have felt as they watched us go about our lives.
Well that got me to thinking about foreigners again and this passage. And it all seemed to strangely give me hope. I saw hope in the real desperation of someone trying to follow God's principles with varying degrees of success. I saw myself in the repeated chant like insistence of the writer that God's laws were good. And I could see myself as a foreigner trying to fit what I knew to be true into the world I was living in. I think that is what God asks of us after all.
My mom told me a story about the first few weeks in Nicaragua. I was three and veritable chatterbox. I went out to play with the neighbour kids and I came back crying. "The kids don't' understand me mom!" I cried. A few weeks later my mom said that I walked into the house beaming, "Mom they understand me now!" Of course their language hadn't changed – mine had!