Song of Songs is another of the shorter books of the Bible; we finish our time with that this week and move into Isaiah. But before we leave it, I’m struck again by its distinctiveness within the biblical canons (you know there have been arguments over the centuries about which books actually constitute “the Bible,” and therefore more than one canon, right?).
Daily Bible readings and readings from The Cup of Our Life:
March 11 – Song of Songs 5; Week 4, Day 5
March 12 – Song of Songs 6; Week 4, Day 6
March 13 – Song of Songs 7; Week 4, Day 7
March 14 – Song of Songs 8; Week 5, Day 1
March 15 – Isaiah 1; Week 5, Day 2
March 16 – Isaiah 2; Week 5, Day 3
March 17 – Isaiah 3; Week 5, Day 4
What has been coming out of your reading of Song of Songs? I’m continually struck by Renita Weems’ observation that it is one of two books in the Bible not to explicitly mention God (the other being Esther), and that it’s the only book in the Bible not to mention Israel in some form. And that’s before we even get to the sex part! Then there’s that undeniably female voice in it – all of these things should be plenty to keep it out of the canon. The question, “Well, why is it in there, then, anyway?” keeps coming to mind. Who wrote this book, how’d it get – and keep! – canonical status? Weems considers, “Perhaps the fact that the book has been included in the canon is evidence enough of the rich, complex, and often ambivalent thinking about women, sex, and matters of the heart that existed in Israel throughout the centuries.”
Song of Songs is one of those books that doesn’t let us get away with easy answers. Weems ponders: “Song of Songs can be a frustrating text to read for those who take seriously the responsibility to study and scrutinize God’s Word. Zealous to be scrupulous exegetes and faithful interpreters, conscientious students of the Bible turn to commentaries for sober guidance into these sacred texts; but their zeal is met with equivocation and conjecture. A battery of questions is applied to each passage, and every word is weighed and studied; nonetheless, the book and its content refuse to submit easily to the arsenal of learned procedures we put them through. Song of Songs insists that we approach it on its own terms.”
All of this thinking about Song of Songs’ place in the canon helps me think about my own call to ministry – the questions I ask myself that I wonder if a lot of other people are asking in some form. Why am I here? Where do I fit in with Christian tradition? If I don’t really fit, who does? Anyone? Or are some of us just better at packing ourselves into boxes that don’t really fit any of us? And is it worth it? We all have to make our way in the world somehow, and depending on who we are we may have a good degree of choice in the matter. How shall we live and whom or what shall we love, and what happens when our lives and our loves are in conflict? I wish I had better answers, more than questions, and while we don’t have to figure it out alone, we do have to figure it out for ourselves.
The theme of Week 5 is that of compassion, parts of which challenge me. In Day 4, Rupp asserts, “Compassion urges us to move out of our comfortable niches of security. Compassion stretches us and asks us to let go of apathy and indifference. Compassion refuses to accept excuses of busyness, ignorance, or helplessness. Compassion invites us to reach out to those who suffer, ‘to live,’ as Sharon Salzberg notes, ‘with sympathy for all living beings without exception.’ Oh, how many times I wish that the ‘without exception’ was not a part of the definition of compassion!” That is the challenging part of compassion! I’ve often thought about how easy it is to have compassion for those with whom I agree – not always the same for those with whom I disagree.
I continue to live with my own question, “How much compassion ought I to have for those who aren’t on my ‘side’?” I invite you to wrestle with that question and how compassion is a part of your own life.
We begin reading a new book about faith-based community organizing: Building a People of Power by Robert Linthicum. One of the things I love about this book is in how deeply it engages the Bible as it moves people toward discovering and using God’s power in our lives. A lot of books about FBCO engage Scripture more implicitly, but this one is particularly good for those of us who struggle with the faith-based part of FBCO – its scriptural roots and sustaining oneself for the long-haul marathon that is organizing people, power, and money to create long-term, sustainable building and revealing of God’s realm in community.
There are a great many things to love about Linthicum’s work, but to sum it up, I love that he comes to this work as a theologically well-educated practitioner of the work of FBCO. What I could’ve used as a college-age agnostic/Christian with a strong desire to “do something good in the world” was not only a strong dose of all the liberation theologies (including feminist, womanist, and ecofeminist theologies), but also to know about the existence of faith-based community organizing and its literature – to learn what was so biblical about social justice, and what made Jesus socially just. If one of the things that keeps younger people out of church is the belief that it is irrelevant and of no real earthly good to this world we live in, all of us good people of faith need to get the church out of the building, but also figure out and become comfortable sharing how our faith is not only intellectually viable in our age of (supposed) reason, but also of what social good it does in the world. We need books about FBCO to get us there, because let me tell ya, it’s no easy thing to articulate on our own.
Linthicum asks some truly tough questions as he wraps up his chapter of exploring just who Jesus was:
What would happen if the church would reclaim for itself the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? How would the church be different if it believed that Jesus worked for both the transformation of people and the transformation of their society so that people and their systems would both embrace authentic relationship with God, exercise a politics of justice, and practice a stewardship of their common wealth so that poverty would be eliminated from that society? What would happen if we believed that God’s work of salvation was as big as the totality of sin – corporate as well as individual, economic and political as well as spiritual – and that Christ had come to die for that entire world? How would the church be different if it saw itself as working with Christ for the building of the shalom community? And what could Christian people accomplish to right the wrongs in their city, and view such work as being the logical extension of the work their Lord and Savior had come to do? (p. 62)
What do you know about the Jesus of the Gospels? What would it mean to truly follow that Jesus?
Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.
Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working to live out their dreams of a more just world!
What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.
Linthicum, Robert C. Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform Their Communities. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2015.
Rupp, Joyce. The Cup of Our Life: A Guide to Spiritual Growth. Revised edition. Notre Dame, Ind: Ave Maria Press, 2012.
Weems, Renita. “Song of Songs: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” Pages 947–1020 in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary. Vol. III of. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015.