If I Were Preaching, King David, Narrative Lectionary, Psalm 51

A Little Dirt

“A little dirt never hurt anyone,” declared Mrs. Toler, our Girl Scout leader. She was a science and math teacher at St. Agnes School and had daughters of her own. She broke through the all-indoors reign of the longtime troop leader, the terrifying Miss Stebbins, and took us camping. We made donuts out of biscuit dough by boiling them in hot oil over a campfire, burning hot and joyfully sweet after we rolled them in powdered sugar. I can call up the aroma and flavor of hamburger cooked over the same fire to add to our spaghetti sauce. Mrs. Toler knew what she was doing.

She brushed off our concerns about outdoor eating and sleeping, confidently.

When I became a woman and a mother, I carried her message into parenting. “A little dirt never hurt anybody.” I imagined myself as laid back, non-neurotic (ha!) and just generally hip to the idea that roughing it can’t kill you.

By which I mean I didn’t force a lot of unnecessary bathing on my children.

Then I contracted an auto-immune disease and became much more concerned about the hygiene of everyone in my immediate surroundings.

All of which means I am a much stricter parent to my step-son than I ever was to the older three. If he goes to wash his hands and comes back too soon, I demand to inspect them. I know some moms who love the smell of “I just played outside for too long” little boy. Maybe you know what a boy’s dirty hands feel like. They have texture, seem layered, almost. When you slide your thumb across the skin, it sticks.

“Go back and use soap.”

Sometimes my heart feels like those hands, a good heart underneath it all, but layered with the smudges of little hurts inflicted by others, the silt of guilty self-knowledge and the griefs-turned-crust shielding the tender parts.

“Create in me a clean heart.”

Psalm 51 asks for God’s assistance in heart renewal. It’s ascribed to David and associated with the aftermath of his affair with Bathsheba and his plot against her husband. As kathrynzj said in her sermon today, David managed to break about 50% of the commandments in just this one series of escapades. Nathan the prophet manages to convince him of his guilt, and David repents, hoping to rebuild his relationship with God.

Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.

(Psalm 51:10-11, Common English Bible)

hand washing heartWe don’t know if King David actually wrote all the psalms, and there are plenty of scholars who think psalms came later, during and after the Babylonian exile, long after his time. But there is a strong association between David and this particular Psalm, as if even the intellectual among us can’t quite bear to part the two. This iconic figure is tender and tough, faithful and flagrant, loving and libidinous, warlike and woeful. He struggles to live up to his call, and when he fails, he comes back to God and asks for help. 

Even if a little dirt never hurt anybody permanently, letting it build up creates complications. It may seem like nothing will ever be the same, and maybe it won’t be exactly. Think of David, getting honest with himself about the ways he messed up not just his own life. A clean heart doesn’t come out of nowhere; it’s not a new heart. A renewed heart comes through the effort of being honest with God and with yourself.

Start at the sink. Lather up. Give all the things covering you to the One who always loved you, even when She dearly wished you would use the soap.

Grief, King David, Midway, Ministry of the Meantime

David’s Lamentation

(Thinking about Proper 14, particularly 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33)

It's been too long since I got to sing Sacred Harp music live, with a group, but whenever I think of it, I remember singing "David's Lamentation." Sacred Harp is raw and raucous and just right for expressing the grief of a guilty parent expressed in this week's lectionary passage about King David. The You Tube video below shows a small Sacred Harp group, conducted by an 8-year-old girl, giving the song their all. You won't hear it when they sing through on the syllables, but listen to the whole thing and you will know what I mean.

"David the King was griev-ed and mov-ed. He went to his chamber, his chamber and wept."

I remember the way those words felt coming out of my mouth the first time, syllables and portions of syllables on separate notes. The song feels like grief as process, the movement both emotional and literal as he walks to his chamber.

In the Ministry of the Meantime, there is a lot of grieving and moving, and one of the benefits to the griever-and-mover-in-chief is that it's hard to stay still in your own life when you're encouraging others to move forward in theirs.

This means hard work, sometimes work that makes a person want to weep, at least a little.

There are more things to bid farewell this summer than the church I left recently. There are old patterns and unhelpful habits and outmoded ways of thinking. There are fond dreams that never came to be. There are bad dreams I really don't need to keep having.

I just need to grieve a little, first.

Grrrls, King David

Dirty Dancing

(Thinking about possibly Im-Proper 10…)

Patrick-swayze Oh, that David! He's such a shiny character in our Bible stories, except when he is a tarnished one.

Some people say God loved him SOOOO much because he was beautiful, or because he had such a lovely singing voice.

And maybe it was the dancing:

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.

So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing;and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. (2 Samuel 6:5, 12b-15, NRSV)

You have to wonder, don't you?

I guess I like to imagine God, however we might imagine the Divine Source of All That Is, taking pleasure in the joy David expressed and encouraged in others, his joy at bringing God into the city, at making God the center of the city.

But not everyone saw it that way.

As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6:16)

Now, history is tough on Michal. We read that she despised David. She sounds like a spoilsport, a prude, a buzzkill. Maybe she was. But once she loved him. Once she loved him enough that her father used her as a pawn in his attempt to keep David under his control, his attempt to overcome God's favor of David. And once, though she loved him, her father gave her to yet another man in marriage. Their marriage and unmarriage and remarriage are topics of interest for scholars.

But Michal is not evaluating her life from a distance. She is seeing David, victorious and joyful and beautiful and musical and and mostly naked and maybe altogether just too much.

The lectionary doesn't go on to share the words she spews at him a few verses later, but let's just say she gives him a piece of her mind and he hands it right back to her.

We've been talking a lot about nudity around our house, as we explore the conflict between civil freedom and personal modesty. These are conversations that a 14-year-old girl might not always have so freely with her mother. Well, I wouldn't have had them with mine, anyway. I'm not sure I would have even thought of some of the things that cross her mind.

Why is it okay, for instance, for men to go around without shirts on, but not for women? And why do we comprehend intellectually the inequity of some cultural norms while reacting with aversion to actual people dressed immodestly?

David and Michal had such a complicated history. Imagine the torture of being married to someone you love, realizing your father hated him, realizing your father GAVE you to someone he hated, losing him, getting him back again sort of, and then watching him dance into town exposed to the world?

I imagine her heart felt exposed, too, flesh torn back, wounds unhealed. I imagine she realized he was not hers, if he had ever been.

I imagine she felt naked, too.

1 Samuel, Children, King David

Practicing Innovation

Light Princess at Graduation This morning I will drive a child to Renowned Middle
School for the last time. Light Princess celebrated the official end of her career there yesterday, and this morning she will go in — an option for 8th graders — to help her favorite teachers pack up their classrooms for the summer.

Since I moved to this house in 1998, I've had a
child at King for 8 out of 11 years: 2 on, 2 off, 3 on, 1 off, 3 on. I've been
to band concerts and awards assemblies and culminating events. I've learned the
principles of Expeditionary Learning and wished I had been able to study things
as holistically as the students there do. I've marveled at how a school
population including so many English Language Learners can be so cohesive and
inclusive. I've been surprised over and over again at the innovative practices
of the principal, who at first glance one might write off as a stolid white guy
of a certain age.

 
Appearances can be deceiving.
 
In 1 Samuel 16:1, the prophet receives instructions
from God:
 
The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you
grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your
horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have
provided for myself a king among his sons."
 
Samuel resists this idea. It will get him in
trouble with the sitting King Saul. Also, a king among the sons of Jesse?
Absurd!
 
In what amounts to a beauty pageant, the sons of
Jesse pass before Samuel, who stands waiting to anoint the one to whom God
points. He might have assumed, in that culture, that it would be the eldest, and
if not the eldest then the tallest or the strongest or the fiercest. But that is
not to be, and even after seven sons have passed by, the Lord has not given
Samuel the signal.
 
He asks, "Have you any other sons?"
 
This part always reminds me of

Cinderella

, when the
prince comes with the shoe and must ask if there are any other young ladies in
the house.

 
Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?"
And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And
Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he
comes here."
He sent and brought him in.
Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, "Rise
and anoint him; for this is the one."
(1 Samuel 16:11-12)
 
He had beautiful eyes.
 

We must never forget that God practices innovation.
God brings together surprising people for amazing purposes. God chooses new ways of being for us.

Remember this when people tell you things have always been a certain way. Remember the youngest son called in from the fields, where he was keeping the sheep.

This Sunday we'll have my favorite Hebrew Bible story, David's amazing encounter with Goliath. After dramatizing it the past two go-rounds, complete with swords and Pure Luck playing the giant and falling to the floor in the sanctuary, victim of those five smooth stones from the wadi, I'm not sure how to approach it.

It seems to be time for an innovative practice.

King David

Beauty Before Age

16:11 Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here."

16:12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; for this is the one."

Thus enters Prince Charming.

I remember reading something once about how God loved David so much because he was beautiful and could sing so well!

There is no question that some people are particularly adore-able for their gifts and talents, that they break through our barriers or habits or expectations over who ought to come first. This is on my mind as we weigh experience vs. inspiration in the current political campaign.  If we were to weigh life experience most heavily, McCain, longtime legislator and former POW, would win. If we were to weigh intelligence and strong-mindedness, perhaps we would elect Senator Clinton. But many, many people are enamored of the candidate who has "beautiful eyes," whose talk of hope sounds like music to our ears.

David, of course, proved to be beautiful but flawed. I find this to be a great relief, that God so loved this broken person with his failings of impulse and ego.

I'm wondering why this passage fits with the gospel lesson for the week. I guess it is the identification of God's chosen one, despite his not fitting the expectations of the patriarchal structure. David is the youngest son; Jesus violates the Sabbath law.

"Rise and anoint him; for this is the one."