Today’s Bible reading

Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning;
but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise
than to hear the song of fools.
For like the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the laughter of fools;
this also is vanity.
Surely oppression makes the wise foolish,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning;
the patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit.
Do not be quick to anger,
for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. – Ecclesiastes 7:3-9

More thoughts for meditation

Today’s reading sounds like the musings of an old person who fully realizes their limitations and the shadow of vanity that has followed them all their days in the sun. They have some good things to say and, if they are wise, they probably don’t care as much as they used to if anyone is listening.

We should listen to the “rebuke” of the wise. We are surrounded by the songs of fools. We should probably subject our worship songs (especially the ones we write!) to the scrutiny of the wise so our foolishness does not spark more foolishness in others until the whole church is burning. It is vivid to see the scornful laughter of fools as the crackling of burning, dead scrub plants under a pot of trouble.

The song of the wise accepts suffering is always the way to joy that lasts. Their song encourages beginners with a vision of their good end; it is patient. Their song knows anger is a signal that we need to turn to God who can heal our hearts like no mere merriment can do.

Suggestions for action

Let’s continue to pray with and for the people of the world in this changing time. Influential musicians from the pandemic era can lead us or challenge us.

We could explore Dua Lipa’s concert and popular songs. We could try to get something out of Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion singing WAP. Taylor Swift was also reinventing herself again. But let’s end with an old white guy trying to contribute to the cause.

Bill Frisell (70) was touring the country with his quiet collection called “Harmony” when the pandemic hit.  He closed each night with a song he has often played for years, now: “We Shall Overcome.” It is a hymn from the 1700s. Slaves probably sang a version of it. It was sung by striking workers in the 1940s, around the time Pete Seeger first heard it and helped spread it to the folk-festival audiences of the ’60s. The civil rights movement, starting with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, adopted it as an unofficial anthem, making famous enough for President Johnson to quote its title in his 1965 call for the Voting Rights Act. In Tiananmen Square, Soweto and many other sites of protest it has been more a statement of collective hope than a call to arms. It is a proclamation of faith.

Frisell told a reviewer he likes the song because of how deeply he has internalized it. “Like when you’re walking and humming or whistling, almost unconscious that you’re doing it — that’s what you want. That’s what ‘We Shall Overcome’ is. It’s in us, the melody and the words. When I play it, the song is like a jungle gym you can play around in. The song is there, and you can take off anywhere.”

Frisell says when he recorded the song, “I was just trying to make a small hopeful statement.” He didn’t know his version would be released the summer of George Floyd’s murder and John Lewis’s death. Those tragedies reminded him that “We Shall Overcome” is “one of those songs that is always relevant. That song kind of sums it up. Every time I think about giving up, there are these people like John Lewis — we owe it to them to keep going and trying.”

Be at rest with God and note how you are trying. The world is ruthless these days since the lust for power causes competitors to point out how their opponents are wrong and not trying enough. Your small gestures in the eyes of yourself or others may be as small as you are, but let them be all you intend and hope for. God is at work in you.

Pray for the old white people. Some are trying to hang on to their supremacy, others are carrying a lifelong struggle on the side of justice and hope (and usually, they are somewhere in between). The latter are disappointed and weighed down with being disappointing. Pray all of them accept their true value in Jesus, and so accept the burden they carry from our wicked culture as a light one.

Today is Athanasius of Alexandria Day! Get to know this very influential ancestor at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.