Song of Solomon 2

Friday 22 August 2014 Leave a comment

The bride and groom tell the whole world of their devotion to each other. The treasure here is the collection of images in the unique Hebrew context.

The woman opens with a measure of self-denigration. She’s nothing but a common flower of the meadow. We make too much of the early English translators’ choice of “rose” when the Hebrew word meant something more common with no noticeable fragrance. The effect is to deny that she is anything special. The man responds that, if so, she happens to be that flower growing among thorns by comparison to other women. It’s not that thorns didn’t come with flowers, but that picking them would be risky. He has no interest in high-risk romance. He prefers the simple beauty of someone who won’t complicate his life with unnecessary drama.

She returns in kind. Apple trees were wholly exotic in Palestine, an imported species requiring a great deal of trouble and care to get any fruit. To find such a thing growing randomly in the forest is a miraculous discovery. She paints the image of embracing him as her covering protection, her relief from a difficult world. His love is more than simply sustaining, but a rare delight. She could never get enough.

In dreamy anticipation, she then paints an image of celebration, the fundamental meaning of sex. That this party hall with sweet wine and exotic food is all about making love should be obvious. Hardly a duty, she’s looking forward to it with indescribable passion. The image of how he holds her with one hand and caresses with the other is meant to titillate. The Hebrews were uninhibited, and had no discomfort with frank discussion of human sexuality. By the same token, they avoided any hint of bawdiness. It’s hard for Westerners to envision a world view without Victorian prissiness.

The lady then turns to warn the other maidens about jumping the gun. The imagery of stags, does, and similar creatures are quite ancient symbols of sexual vigor. She calls them to promise themselves they won’t settle for the first thing that comes along and stirs the hormones. Give it time; wait for the right man. We note in passing this would be easier for a rural girl to observe than a city girl, so she’s bringing her country wisdom to bear. Then she conjures the image of patient restraint because God’s choice for husband can appear suddenly with little advance notice. So she encourages them to open their hearts to sensing things not easily noticed in the hustle and bustle of the city. Get out away from all of that and experience the quiet solitude of waiting for something worth the wait. You never know where he’ll appear, but you’ll know it when you see him because he will be paying attention to you without demanding anything.

Instead, he’ll wait for the right moment to win your heart. His appeal will leave you totally free to reject him and his honorable intent will be obvious. He doesn’t demand too much too soon. Instead, all he asks is to be near her, to revel in the joy of her simple presence.

Typical of Ancient Near Eastern literature, the Hebrew people used the image of the fox as negative, a destructive influence in romance. The vineyard is generally the symbol of pleasure in marriage, a life of happiness in building a family, having children. In response to the man’s call to her, she asks him to invest himself in removing hindrances that would spoil their love. Does he really mean it? Will he reduce his attention to other gals? Don’t play games, boy; show me.

Finally, she notes how true love is peaceful, rather like an animal quietly grazing in the meadow where those little flowers grow. She calls to him as the figure of a virile buck to turn aside from the distractions of other social opportunities and stay with her until it’s clear as the morning light that he is committed to her. Let the whole world know and he can rut wildly with her.

Virtual Spiritual Family

Friday 22 August 2014 Leave a comment

Welcome to our virtual parish.

I’m a virtual pastor. Technically I’m an elder, the management half of the church leadership team. However, I also serve in the priesthood role simply because no one else is doing it and I have been trained for it. Two different religious agencies have at one time in the past ordained me, and Oklahoma recognizes that I am a clergyman. I do actually get to officiate as clergyman now and then in meat space.

Did I use enough confusing and overlapping labels there? Since this whole thing is in virtual space, I’m not sure it makes one bit of difference. There is really darn little to manage except the teaching. That’s something either of the two primary offices could do. Frankly, it’s the elder that would do most of the counseling in the original concept of the church.

A recurring theme in the teaching and counsel here is the moral elements of romance and marriage. We are plodding through Song of Solomon chapter by chapter and I’m trying to point out how God’s moral character is expressed in godly romance. I take some of my behavioral science facts from the manosphere or “game” sites, red-pill sites, but the moral framework on such sites is usually not good. We emphasize the Ancient Hebrew intellectual understanding of things, while most of the manosphere is overwhelmingly Western.

Here, women are treated with a bit more respect, even as we disparage Western feminism. For example, I am utterly convinced we see in the New Testament women in church leadership. No, I don’t mean pastoring in the priestly role, but as elders, and most certainly as deaconesses. A church is fundamentally a spiritual family in the Ancient Hebrew tribal sense, an extended family household. No household is complete without a spiritual mama. Men don’t know everything. We know what we are wired to see and experience, and the wiser among us realize how limited that perspective is. Without a feminine input, even a bit of feminine contradiction, as it were, you would not get the full revelation of God.

I often note that we do not use a test of orthodoxy here, because systematic theology is merely one person’s intellectual speculation. It’s not revelation and it’s not Scripture. Narrative theology is simply a rewording of the Bible, which leaves an awful lot of intellectual queries unanswered because intellect isn’t that important. So the membership of this virtual parish is very diverse, including folks who aren’t Christian or even religous at all. The content of my teaching is very plainly advisory, not prescriptive. It may be rude to argue with me, but I fully expect you would disagree with me on some things.

That’s how real families work. Were we to gather physically in some location, we would need a strong coordination for our meat space activities. That’s a major element in eldership. But we meet here in virtual space, so precious little of that is needed. Thus, we are left emphasizing a broad variation and flexibility. Technically, we really aren’t doing anything at all.

As I continue exploring the implications of godly romance and marriage, I want to include at least one other voice, a sort of spiritual mama. My wife is not a writer, but she’s there behind the scenes supporting this ministry. Instead, I rely on someone else to provide that feminine balance for this blog. Readers may recognize Wildcucumber as the online nickname for that motherly voice. Her blog is called Falling into Grace. She won’t say exactly what I say and you might even perceive a bit of disagreement here and there. It’s not an issue. What matters is how the underlying frame of moral reference is close enough to get the job done. So I recommend her comments on life in general, but in particular I treat her as the balancing gender viewpoint for this virtual parish.

Oh my, what a grand privilege! Heh. Don’t swamp her blog; that might freak her out. Would I include others on our imaginary church leadership staff? Sure. Participate meaningfully and contribute to the discussion and if your voice sounds like you are leading along the same broad moral terrain, I’ll include you just the same.

Let’s be family as much as a virtual setting will permit.

Frantic Spamming (Updated)

Thursday 21 August 2014 Leave a comment

Update: A manager at Love’s called shortly after I posted this and was unhappy to hear that I had so much trouble getting this SMS spam to stop. I take his apology at face value. I told him it took me awhile to figure out where it was coming from, so maybe they’ll do a better job of including the ID in the messages from here on out. At any rate, this hyperbolic rant stands because it took so long to get a response. My first attempt to contact them was last week.

Original post…

Boycott Love’s! Actually, that would be pointless.

The economy is declining; we are headed for a crash. However, “crash” in this sense does not mean that economic activity stops, but that it reverts to some level far below what we consider sustainable. It moves at a pace and with a volume insufficient for the population to be comfortable. Across the whole country, some specific locations will be worse than others. Some fortunate few will continue living comfortably while most will suffer varying degrees of deprivation, at least compared to what life was like a decade ago.

Those who have some sense of proportion will simply adjust. In our current cultural climate, that’s a pretty small slice of our population. Most will continue with their highly inflated sense of entitlement. That unrealistic sense of demand is what causes people to act crazy, including criminal acts aimed at relieving the distress. However, the majority will at least spend some time first testing the waters of bad ethics before actual criminality.

In broad general terms, marketers and advertisers were already splashing around in bad ethics. They’ve been studying ways to manipulate and prey on typical human thought patterns. They knew long ago, for example, that pissing people off is almost as good as making them love your brand name. Thus, annoying the shit out of them would still cause them end up looking for your products because it dominates their memories. We few normal folks won’t fall for that, but the vast majority of our society has been conditioned to operate that way. In other words, it’s a tactic that generally works for the marketers.

That tactic depends, of course, on a means of advertising delivery that people can’t or won’t shut out. You like TV? Radio? Precious few are the media outlets that don’t come with advertising. Sure, we had some juggling back and forth with various ways to block or skip over advertising, but we have been conditioned to think it’s unethical to do that. Think about that for a moment. Think about how the vast majority of advertising is an attempt to manipulate you into buying something you don’t want or need. Our entire system of commerce and production is based on the assumption that you will be advertised into docility and not expect much from the products so that you’ll always be dissatisfied and keep buying. There is a sense in which the marketers own the entire system, and never offering more than useless crap so you are forced to endure their harassment.

Yes, by using WordPress without paying for the service, I’m forced to endure whatever shitty advertising they put at the bottom of my posts. I wish I could afford to “go premium” but it won’t happen any time soon. Please forgive me.

When it became possible to take advantage of cheaper means of delivering advertising through newer communication systems, they jumped on it. In no time at all we discovered that the difference between a genuine pitch and spam is virtually nothing. Would you believe that most spammers will deliver, more or less on what they advertise? They might be lying about what the product will do, but if you give them money, they send what they offer. The problem is that a significant number of us did not agree to tolerate the spam. That is, while we grudgingly tolerate advertising on TV, radio, blogs, etc., we don’t agree that the mere possession of an email account justifies just any jerk from dumping marketing bilge into it.

Rightly so; you did not agree to it. It’s one thing when the company hosting your free email account inserts ads where you can see them when you use the service. It’s another when some third party, not a party to the working agreement, abuses the opportunity to advertise in a way you cannot block. Sure, we now have the on-going development of spam filtering with some of these “free email” providers. Spam email still accounts for the majority of all Internet traffic. Though the numerical portion seems to vary, it’s often cited around 80%-90%. The way the Internet is designed and operated, there’s not much they can do to eliminate it, but I see that most of it never gets delivered and served up to human eyeballs. Still, spammers abuse the system, which makes them almost exactly the same kind of slimeballs as every other marketer.

Still, when it comes through the system and wastes your time and attention, you are rightly pissed off. You may not be able to do much about it, but your offense is wholly morally justified. Granted, there is the possibility that you can strike back, but it usually takes more effort than you might be willing to expend. Sometimes, it just might be worth it.

Only just this month I’ve purchased from my cellphone provider SMS (AKA “texting”). Immediately I started getting weekly spam texts from Love’s Deal Alerts. Of course, they were too smart to let me know that was the sponsor. Instead, they used a deceptive “common short code” — 56837. You might have a devil of a time finding out who is behind some of those codes, but I stumbled across this page and it helps a lot. In this case, Love’s is a major corporation that started here in Oklahoma and owns truck stops and a bunch of “country stores.”

By no means did I subscribe to this damned nuisance texting service. Worse, there was no simple way to unsubscribe. I’ve used their website contact page, emailed the webmaster, and even filed a complaint with the FCC. So far, the messages still come weekly, typically right when I’m doing something important. This whole thing is precisely the kind of unethical behavior that makes sensible people hate advertisers and their advertising. The only thing I haven’t tried is picketing their local truck stop or physically visiting their corporate offices. It’s the sort of thing where, if they won’t honor the typical efforts to be relieved of the nuisance, then their ethics are so low you should expect it would take genuine threats of physical violence, which would also get me into big trouble while they get to continue their evil ways.

Love’s is just one a million operations all too willing to abuse any angle they can to avoid the valid general suffering we all have to face with a declining economy. You can bet they serve as merely one example of the frantic spamming we have only just begun to see.

Tear the Veil over the Past

Thursday 21 August 2014 Leave a comment

Remember: It’s all narrative. It’s not a question that you cannot possibly get something approaching objective facts, but that you won’t get much of it from the voices so willing to tell their story. People are generally incapable of being objective.

At a bare minimum, anything approaching objectivity requires an otherworldly commitment. That’s the foundation. So long as you care much about this world, you cannot handle it with any degree of honesty. You will be unable to resist the temptation to slant things to your desires. Once you let your self-honesty slip, everything else is subject to heavy filtering.

So I don’t pretend to tell you objective facts; I confess openly that what I write is just my own narrative. Take it first and foremost as entertainment. God’s Truth cuts its own path through the heart, so however much of His Truth you see in my work is to His credit, helping you take what He wants for you from the mixture of words I splatter on your screen.

My path is not for you, but in my blather may be clues to the path God has for you. What we need more than anything else a removal of obfuscation. By some miracle, it would seem God uses my words to reduce confusion for some. If nothing else, writing it out this way clarifies things for me. God’s Truth about this world is not a matter of objective fact because He can change it on-the-fly to suit His whims. Rather, the business of revelation is to grant you a perspective, a characterization of things that will guide you through your personal darkness.

One of the worst lies that keeps confronting me in my daily surfing is the notion that we can somehow recover the American Dream. The American Dream never was, because it was too many different things to too many different people. Further, the variations were mutually exclusive to one degree or another. All of them grew out of the false assumption that we could somehow agree on something no two people could possibly share.

But getting beyond that, whatever it was we did have in America is gone. It won’t be back. Government will never obey the Constitution, if it ever did. People who are in power won’t even consider it, though they’ll lie about it an awful lot. The police agencies in this country will never, ever protect the public from threats. They will always and forever protect the government prerogatives from the people. You never had a voice in the first place, but it’s now becoming more painfully obvious. Even where we can agree on what ought to be, you can be certain that won’t happen.

I am utterly convinced that if I can just get people to put aside that myth, we can go forward into the future on the basis of what God is actually likely to provide. Don’t ask Him to return us to something you might imagine it ought to have been, because it wasn’t what He wanted in the first place. Stop blaming God for inspiring that filthy nonsense. The original concept for this country as commonly explained to us today was a blatant rejection of God’s Laws. So we should hardly be surprised when He decides it is time to let it die.

If you intend obeying Him, discard the nonsense and prepare for what God is actually doing.

Song of Solomon 1

Wednesday 20 August 2014 Leave a comment

The primary characters are a king and his bride. She is of noble birth, but presented here as a country girl, familiar with the urban scene, but previously not at home in it. A recurring role is the choir of city girls, not yet married. They often represent the attitudes the bride faces among such women as she enters royal society in the capital city. These are the girls who have hung around the palace since birth.

The chapter opens with the rapturous celebration of the bride, likely a short time after learning she is the chosen. She is wholly enamored with her man, and eager to assume the role. She is not in the least bothered that all the other gals are swooning over him; she’s just awfully glad he chose her over any of them. She’s all too happy to offer herself fully to this man. The girls’ chorus agrees that she’s a good choice and celebrate with her. A final line has the royal groom affirming that all this rejoicing is fully justified.

In a sort of apology, the bride compares herself to the black goat’s hair tents of the Arabic tribes in northern Arabia, known then as Kedar, along with a similar tribe known as Salmah in the vicinity of Petra. Tanning was not in vogue. Unlike the city girls who hide from the sun to keep their skin milky white, the bride has worked outdoors most of her life. There’s a pun here about the burning of the sun compared to the burning anger of her brothers. We aren’t told why they were angry, but it was common enough to find rural nobles demanding the household females earn their keep. In more literal terms, she would have been out there supervising peasants and servants keeping the vineyard. She’s no less attractive for it, but notes her own property suffered from neglect because of it. This is another subtle bit of humor; she was forced to neglect all that urban girly stuff, and developed a no-nonsense management persona.

Guys, don’t be a sucker for mere appearances. Think about how she will contribute to your calling and mission. A gal with strong capabilities can still make you tingle in the bedroom. Ladies, don’t rely on mere femininity as your sole contribution to a man’s life, even if it is primary. The best queen for a king suffers no inflated sense of entitlement, but brings a lot to the altar.

Hebrew culture universally despised whiners. Fresh in everyone’s mind when Solomon wrote this was the image of David, a king who earned his crown as a man who never shrank from getting his hands dirty with work or war. David was the shepherd king and anyone so much as pretending to noble status would be physically present, at least part of the time, when their servants worked in the fields. He fit right into the basic image of the ideal king as shepherding his people. This bride is fully invested in her man’s mission. It’s not a question of keeping an eye on a wayward skirt-chaser, but a powerful interest in what makes him tick. She wants to be involved. His answer is that he won’t be hard to find if she really cares.

Then the groom bursts out in celebration at what a fine lady he chose. Nothing else a man wants could possibly compare. Because she is so very committed to him, he’s willing to give her all the things any woman could want. Her response is to focus on the treasure of his love. In a very public setting where his reputation is everything, she allows her exotic and expensive perfume to symbolize her adoration of him. Let them see her in near worship of him because they don’t know the half of what she enjoys about being his wife. Provoke their envy, if possible. Among such august company, she has eyes only for him. The chapter closes with another back and forth between them, each reaffirming their devotion to the other in terms wholly consistent with common gender types.

Mission Support

Tuesday 19 August 2014 Leave a comment

Sometimes it is downright disturbing how folks in ministry beg for offerings.

It remains one of slimiest aspects of religion today. Most of what any of us could see sickens me, but I worked behind the scenes to see how donations were wasted on every petty and gross vice you can imagine. Some you can’t imagine. God help me; I want no part of that.

In the past few months, one person in particular has posted a couple of contributions to my PayPal account. I used it to buy a shop-vac — been wanting one for years — and then a regular carpet vacuum cleaner because our old Dirt Devil was working poorly. Got them through Wal-Mart’s online store because they take PayPal. When you tell folks how you spent their money, it’s called “accountability.”

It’s getting rough on everyone. I suspect the next PayPal contributions will be spent on groceries. No, we aren’t starving, but it is tight. I’ve changed my “Donate” page here to reflect this new reality. If I knew how reach out there and clip that guilt wire in your brain, I would do it right now. The last thing I want is someone trying to assuage false guilt by donating to my work. You can’t buy God off like that, nor your own conscience. Don’t try it.

Find some other motivation. Participate on any basis that moves you, but I refuse to beg. Give because it blesses you and me. I’ll be glad to explain where the money went, but I’m willing to bet you’ll find me pretty responsible, if that matters to you. But you can’t give what you don’t have and I would be deeply disturbed if I saw some of slavish crap I’ve seen elsewhere. Don’t do that to me.

Do what’s right. I’m just letting you know the real situation.

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Let’s Study Romance

Tuesday 19 August 2014 Leave a comment

Our Western culture militates against moral wisdom.

Paul and his associates confronted a somewhat less foreign culture in the first churches outside Palestine than we do today. When you read between the lines of the New Testament, you still see a constant struggle. On the one hand, Paul himself struggled with defining what was essential from the Old Testament way of life versus what belonged merely to the specific Covenant of Moses. It was easily the bulk of what he discovered in his three years of isolation before engaging Christian ministry. Once he was fairly certain of that territory, it was still a major battle guiding Gentiles into that same world.

Reading his letters in the New Testament, you can sense the conflict. Hebrew mysticism was not entirely foreign to them, but the particular moral assumptions often conflicted with their heathen Gentile morals. To their advantage, the world around them did not flatly deny the mystical approach. Our world seeks to crush it with a malevolence hard to describe.

The moral character of God as revealed in Scripture cannot rest on mere intellectual study. It requires a broad recognition of elements in knowing and deciding that our world seeks to exclude. At best, we have pitiful substitutes based on mere sentiment, which is easily the most dangerous path we can take. Despite the ostensible secularity of our society, it is a nasty and ugly war of one moral outlook (largely Anglo-Saxon) against that of the Bible. Saddest of all is how very much the established mainstream Christian institutions in our society have sold themselves into the service of that competing view and don’t even recognize that following Christ means a radical shift in assumptions about reality.

Against this, Christ calls us to strive daily to find that now-secret path He marked out centuries ago. It is in the midst of this overwhelming tsunami of deception and violence that we struggle to carve out a life consistent with God’s moral character. It’s not enough to recognize His character as an influence in reality, but it is the underlying fabric of all Creation. It is the founding principle, the thing on which all else stands. The Law Covenants reflect that divine moral character.

That much have I written many times here and in my books. Without that understanding, little of what I write will make much sense. Even more so will Scripture seem to offer a useless message, unless you approach Scripture from its own intellectual assumptions. It’s a standard, but one that is living and active and sharper than any cutting implement. This is God’s policeman living in the world today, not some mindless robot, but your best friend. His enforcement policies will ever remain incomprehensible and inscrutable, but nonetheless binding and calling to us always to take the better path for our own good.

I sensed the shepherd’s calling in my youth. Starting from those insane teenage years, I have suffered much turmoil from the pulling of the Spirit against so very much of what everyone in churches insisted I learn. As you would surely expect, the art of marriage counseling was a part of that. Not that I would pretend any level of perfection. Even as I enter the latter years of my life, having moved so very far from the boiling cauldron of Western mythology and into the life and freedom of Biblical morality, the day I don’t screw something up is when you need to check my pulse to see if I yet live. Not just common things, but things critical to romance.

I have come to the point where my internal message system does make some decent progress off of my daily mistakes. That is, I am ever more conscious of what to do with emotional pain. If I get grouchy and it’s not merely a physical issue, I recognize that I am grouchy and try to chase down the source. Most of the time it is a sense of having been injured. I’ve been hurt by something my spouse said or did, and though it’s path out of me may be circuitous and tortured, I tend to let her know. After which, I struggle to make sense of what happened so that I can bring healing, not just to her feelings, but to the source of conflict itself.

Whether you blow up or not, don’t let stuff fester. If love and romance are worth doing, they are worth doing right. Scripture pours so very much into the issue of human romance. On the one hand, the Bible clearly dismisses a large swathe of standard Western concerns. On the other hand, it elevates other issues to such prominence that you cannot escape them. The biggest problem we have in Western society is the double-bit ax that either ignores the stuff that requires thoughtful consideration or traps you in bondage to bogus reasoning about things that don’t matter.

On the one hand, my urge to write is strong, and not merely in response to a few questions here and there. Romance is the foundation of all human social interaction; if this is broken, society itself cannot be healed in any way. I’ll be exploring the quintessential discussion of romance in the Bible, the Song of Solomon. On the other hand, we have to translate that into our world and this is the part that requires a sort of hands-on exploration of our daily experience. Even if I can write it and have it make sense to you, it may not fit into a book. The threads of quantum moral logic require a shift of commitment, not mere understanding. It means you have to embrace that flaming sword of truth at the entrance to Eden, not merely admire it and describe it.

This subject remains open and I’ll gladly take your questions: here in the comments section, privately by email and on Facebook as well.

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