Zachary Bright

The Wonder of it All

Jack’s New Year Bible Study*

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Jack4

Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, ESV)

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. (Eccl. 11:6, ESV)

Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. (Eccl. 11:10, ESV)

“No Ship Coming In”

It’s all breaking down
Crushed into the ground
But I will love you forever

It’s falling apart
Hopeless and dark
But we’re gonna see it through together

Caught in a landslide
Earthquakes and high tides

It’s gonna be a rough ride
But I’ll stay by your side

By grace we remain
With hands in the flame
But I will love you forever

Times may be hard
We’re crippled and scarred
But we’re gonna see it through together
(we’re gonna see it through)

Dreams of a lifetime
Way past the deadline
We’re pushing up an incline
But we’ll be just fine

No money to spend
(hard times are comin’ again)
No ship comin’ in
(We’re here through the thick and the thin)
But we’re gonna see it through together (“No Ship Coming In” from the CD, “Little Red Riding Hood” (1993) by The Lost Dogs)

So, how’s the new year working out for you so far? Well, I’m already behind in two reading groups that started at the beginning of the year and I have not even finished reading the New Year’s resolutions list I thought I would adopt. Someone has moved my books and magazines around, and whichever calender I eventually choose (don’t you get multiple calenders in the mail too?), still doesn’t accurately reflect my schedule. No worries mate; we’ll work this out together.

In the canine-human relationship, sometimes one lifts the other’s spirits, and sometimes, one brings the other down. I’m leaving out, for now, the happy case where the companions’ energy is more equitably and subtly shared. But the past few days, Jack Lewis and I have both been tumbling together, for various reasons, into the abyss.

After a few days of focused tasks, the Bible study last evening, and before that, the last post, “A Dog’s Christmas”, my motivations are what I call under-determined. If I knew what the right, best action was for now, then one thing would lead to another, and I would be in the groove, with duty and delight leading me forward. I can’t speak for Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog (BBSD), but right now I’m at loose ends.

But something, is bothering the Balding Bible Study Dog. To the barks I’ve told you about (the warning that Vikings are coming up the walkway, the preemptive challenge, the social misery howl, and the bark suggesting that “SOMETHING is going on outside and I won’t stop until everyone shows signs of panic”), must now be added the whoo-whoo anxious bark, various high-pitched vocalizations, and the bark that says, “I know you don’t see anything out there, but can you SMELL what I smell?”

I found this definition for the word, ‘ennui’: a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. Ennui seems to describe both Jack and me. To that could be added the word,’acedia’, which is associated with sloth, langour, sadness and torpor. Whatever the case, I have just been aroused from torpor by the BBSD’s clumsy wrestling with his Bible. Sometimes, like now, Jack uses the unreliable method of choosing his verse for the week, by closing his eyes, placing his paw in an open Bible, wherever it opens; and wherever his middle nail points, that will be where the Balding Bible Study Dog begins his studies. Jack Lewis laments that dogs do not have opposable thumbs, which would allow him to select a more rational method for finding guidance and inspiration. Of course humans have less excuse. (1)

Jack’s paw descended into Ecclesiastes, and landed (I kid you not!) on Eccl. 9:4: “But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living DOG is better than a dead lion.” (ESV, but emphasis added by the BBSD) What does this mean? ‘It’s not over til it’s over’? ‘While there’s life, there’s hope’? Or the modern materialist version: ‘If you’ve got your health, you’ve got every thing’? Or the glass half-full or half-empty version: ‘At least your alive’? Or ‘It’s not over until the fat lady sings’ (Oops! Just kidding)? Or what about: at least you’re alive and have a chance of changing your circumstances; or, to be alive is essential, but dignity, not so much…? Jack Lewis and I are going to ask how our randomly selected verses might address our ennui and depression? At the very least, this verse says ‘no’ to suicide, and not only physical suicide, but emotional and spiritual. Hang on! God may act in some wonderful way soon! Don’t give up. Also, don’t give into mind-numbing lethargy, but stay alert to all of God’s creation around you and the opportunities God has set before you (Jack, the Opportunistic Predator: “Did someone say, op?”). (2)

The next verse that the Balding Bible Study Dog found was: “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?” (Eccl. 4:11, ESV) Immediately, Jack Lewis thinks of our sleeping arrangements: Jack sleeps tightly packed against my right leg, while I drift off to sleep with my hand on his back. A couple of nights recently the temperature was down to F34. Even last night, with the temperature up in the 50s, Jack was shivering. Do you know the band, Three Dog Night? Their name is an Eskimo expression for a very cold night, so cold it takes three dogs to stay warm. Do you know that normal dog temperature runs a few degrees higher than normal human temperature? Companionship, warmth and touch make the world a little easier to face.

Jack’s nail slipped down to the following verse: “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Eccl. 4:12, ESV) Who would you choose to be with you in a dark alley? The last phrase in the verse is brought out for weddings and anniversaries and is found sometimes on greeting cards. But back to our project: some realities require other people and some situations are best faced with others, like ennui or depression. The New Testament uses locutions for ‘one another’ about 323 times. There are commands to: “love one another”, “encourage one another”, “forgive one another”, “build one other up”, etc. The Christian life is not merely me alone in my room with God, or in my solitude, like Soren Kierkegaard. A Christian is a member of the Body of Christ and is connected in specific ways to other members of the Body. A Christian is adopted into the Family of God, which includes not only Jesus our elder brother, but a host aunts, uncles, siblings, mothers and fathers. Share a blessing or thanksgiving or praise with another Christian and your joy is doubled and the experience is completed and sealed. Share a sorrow or challenge or difficulty or need with another Christian, and your burden is cut in half. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15, ESV) This would be a good time to reread the lyrics for the song, “No Ship Coming In”, printed above.

Look at the Bible texts at the beginning of this post. They are saying, at least, that even if you do not have a lot of confidence in a positive outcome of your problems, even if, in your ennui and depression, the glass is half empty (and there is a leak in the bottom of the glass), do something. The old Nike commercial said, “Just do it!”, as if you know what you want to do, and just need encouragement or permission. But our texts call us to do something, to do SOME thing. If you have ennui, you don’t know what you want to do, so don’t be paralyzed in indecision. Do SOME thing; try everything; send out 25 resumes; plant 25 flowers; send out 25 orders; sing 25 songs; make a phone call; take your dog for a walk, and so on. Try everything; you don’t know what will work. The more bread you throw on the waters, the more orders you send out, the more chances you have of a good outcome.

And then from Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, I take that one should enjoy what is before one: food, wine, clothes, hair products (!), “the wife whom you love” (3). But note the Preacher does not believe in the full Christian hope of eternal life with God. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.” (Eccl. 9:10, ESV) This is the only life you have, so do what you want and enjoy the moment. I will object to some of this later.

So to face depression, ennui, acedia, the night, or just the morning:

1. Stay alive and alert to God, creation, people, beauty and dogs. No kind of suicide is on our ‘to do list’ today.

2. Stay connected. Touch, people and dogs are almost always a good idea; they ground us in immediate reality, and wake us up.

3. Everyone needs friends (like the tag line on our morning news program: “Mornings are better with friends.”). Everyone could use some help sometime. We need the family of God. And what a comfort it is to know that someone has your back, and of course, that we are needed to help someone else.

4. Do something! Do SOME thing! Do. Some. Thing.

However, I must acknowledge that just doing something, doing whatever, is not enough for me. I’m not wired that way. I need to sense that I am basically doing the right thing each moment: right for me, right for God, right for the people I love, right for the Kingdom of God. I am not thinking of a legalistic attitude, nor am I trying to impress God or earn his favor (I already have God’s, love, acceptance and forgiveness because of Christ’s work in his life, death and resurrection). I’m just thinking that one’s life should be a work of art. I like a French translation of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are the meek”: “Heureux sont les debonaire”. Debonaire, like Fred Astaire! Moment by moment guidance from Yeshua, and partnership with him in bringing something of beauty into this world, while subverting the old world order (like a secret agent!) is my aspiration. That is why I cherish verses like these: “The sheep hear his [Jesus’] voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3b, ESV); “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21, ESV)

Well, I gotta go; Jack is begging me to go to bed. But I will leave you with this:

not freaking out

*Copyright Jack Lewis, the Balding Bible Study Dog, for lolstc productions. All rights reserved.

(1) God can, and sometimes does, speak through the Bible text one sees first. I think of St. Augustine hearing a child’s voice saying, “Take up and read”, and that he felt compelled to open the Bible and take as God’s word to him the first verses that he saw: “…interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find.” (“Confessions”, ch. XII) The verses he saw? Especially Romans 13:13-14. However, one should read longer texts, like whole Bible books, and maybe use a Bible reading plan to read the Bible in a year or three. Here’s why: 1) texts should be interpreted in context, that is a verse in the context of the chapter, a chapter in the light of the whole book, the book in it’s place in the narrative of God with his creation, especially Israel and Jesus; and 2), we desire to live in the light of the whole story of God’s rescue of his creation and his passionate love for us. We desire to live the Story, and we want the Story to describe for us all of our encounters.

(2) No actual Bibles were damaged in the making of this post.

(3) I can’t help noting what seems to me to be an odd way of speaking, though it may be perfectly innocent. Is the author referring to a favorite wife, maybe the second wife? The whole passage is advice for living “the days of your vain [meaningless?] [Heb., hebel – “vapor” or “mere breath”] life” (Eccl. 9:9, ESV), without the prospect of a meaningful afterlife. Many kings in ancient Israel and Judah had multiple wives and concubines. King Solomon, who may be behind Ecclesiastes, especially had a reputation for having many wives and princesses (700) and concubines (300). Many of his marriages were to cement political alliances (“princesses”), it’s true, but there is no way that Solomon can be construed as monogamous, nor can the author of Ecclesiastes be construed as often denying himself sexual pleasure with multiple women (see Eccl. 2:8, 10; 11:9). So the song “Love The One You’re With” (1970) by Stephen Stills, with lyrics like, “If you’re down and confused and can’t remember who you’re talkin’ to; Concentration slip away,  Because your baby’s so far away… If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with… There’s a girl right next to you, and she’s just waiting for something to do; get it together; make it nice; You ain’t gonna need any more advice…” This kind of thinking has screwed up my generation; and living for the moment or acting with disdain for consequences, are attitudes that many of us need to lean against in ourselves.
Probably many of us think of the biblical, “wife of your youth”, when we read, “wife whom you love”; but that doesn’t seem to be the spirit of our text. However, that brings me to a comparison of the two phrases and what I’m trying to do in this MOAF (mother of all footnotes). “Wife of your youth” appears exactly four times in the Bible, for instance, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth…” (Prov. 5:18, ESV) Three of the four verses encourage faithfulness in marriage to one partner (Prov. 5:18; Malachi 2:14 and 2:15). What is interesting to me is that the reason for faithfulness in marriage, given in Malachi 2:15, is that God is seeking, “Godly offspring”. This is not to say that the only divine purpose for marriage is procreation; but note that faithfulness makes sense when one has a long-term perspective, a perspective lacking in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Some projects, and some relationships, are only possible if one is committed until the end. Ironically, sexual promiscuity leads increasingly to an inability to feel the most profound emotions, and to missing the deep intimacies that can only be found with dedication and time.

This post was powered by the song, “Sometimes I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything” (2014) by Tweito, the CD, “The Best Of The Lost Dogs” (1996) by The Lost Dogs and the song, “Love the One You’re With” (1970) by Stephen Stills.

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Author: Zachary Bright

Until February 2014, I was pastor of Divine Savior Presbyterian Church for about 24 years. I am interested in theology, alternative music, new worship music, culture making, philosophy and dogs. Most of all I am interested in extending the Kingdom of God and its blessings to everyone around me. I am the Director of the Southern CA. C.S. Lewis Society and I am a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary. My wife Terry, my dog Jack Lewis and I host a Bible Study in our home on Sunday afternoons.

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