Saturday, September 20, 2008

Solomon, Oh, Solomon

Somewhere today I heard a man talking about Solomon, king of Israel after David. You know the story:  Wisest of men, leading Israel to riches and peace, 700 wives and 300 concubines, the builder of the Temple and, in the end, apostate king. "The difference between Solomon and David," this man said, "is that David had a passion for God and Solomon didn't."

I'm not sure the difference between them is that simple. But the man had a point:  Solomon, as he grew older, became distracted and turned from God. In the end, so far as anyone can tell, he died unrepentant, his heart cold towards God and the people of his kingdom.

This reminds me of Jesus' parable of the man sowing seed in his field. Some seed fell on ground where there were thorns and weeds, and when that seed began to sprout the thorns entangled themselves around the grain, choking it out so that there was no fruit from that seed. This, Jesus said, represents the person who hears the gospel and receives it; but the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out the gospel.

I think about this as I grow older. I think about this because I wonder how many of us are slowly, and all unawares, turning into Solomons. We have kingdoms now, and alliances, and comforts and blessings. We want to keep those things going on into the future. We have a place for God, just as Solomon had a temple for God. We aren't tearing down the temple; we're just kind of ignoring it. We have other concerns now--retirement, paying off the mortgage, getting the kids through college.

You don't need to be wealthy to be deceived by wealth. You just need to put your hope in wealth. We show this when we think that all our problems would be solved with a bigger paycheck, or by winning the lottery, or by someone leaving us a few hundred thousand dollars as an inheritance. Money can give us what we want. Money can provide the toys that make life worth living. Money can ease the stress we face day by day.

Most people I know look for two things in life:  we want security and we want to enjoy the fruit of that security. We use our faith as a tool to gain what we want. Not only the Word of Faith people--those "prosperity gospel" preachers--do this. In everyday living, we all throw our time and thought and strength into seeking these things. What a contrast to "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Making Light of It: Pierce Pettis

Some time ago, I first heard the voice and songs of folk singer Pierce Pettis through Paste Magazine's pasteradio free mp3 download site. The site has changed now, and I can't find the artists listed whose works I downloaded then:  Claire Holley, Ryan Long, Harrod and Funck, Over The Rhine, Innocence Mission. . . . These are not-quite-mainstream artists whose work is cutting-edge lyrically, and who are worth looking up. But the one who most impressed me was Pettis.

I haven't had the chance to hear much of his music. For one thing, the local Wal-Mart just doesn't carry a lot of his kind of thing, the lyrical folk music that oddballs like me love but that doesn't sell gold. For another, I just don't have the spare $20 to grab any album I like every few weeks. Then I found Pandora, an internet music site that lets the user set up personal radio stations based on specific artists. Now I have Pandora stations featuring Steve Delopoulos (of Burlap to Cashmere), Phil Keaggy, Todd Agnew, Daniel Amos, Glenn Kaiser, and. . . Pierce Pettis (Can't wait to add some Maggie Becker into the mix).

Because Pandora doesn't stream the whole album at one time (instead it streams the featured artist and others like him), I haven't heard all of Pettis' songs from his album Making Light of It. But there are two songs I'd downloaded from Paste:  "Miriam" and "Absalom, Absalom." If you follow the link to the album, you can hear clips from these songs and the rest of the album. If you follow the Pandora link, you can register and set up your own stations, including (I hope) a Pierce Pettis station for your own.

Here's what captured me about Pettis:  He's the perfect mix of voice, instrument, and lyric. He weaves faith into his songs without being preachy; he shares deep sentiment in plain, simple words; he sings real life. "Miriam" is a good example of what he can do with a song:  Taking someone we think we know (the virgin Mary) and showing her for who she really is (Miriam, a Jewish girl). This is like good exegesis in a song:  You get people to look deeper than they have to find what they've skipped over and missed because "we already know that one."

I hope to get the chance to hear more of Pettis, maybe even to buy a whole album (or you could send me one this Christmas. . .). In the meantime, check his music out for yourself. For that matter, check out the other artists I mentioned. You'll know what I like, and you'll find (I hope) new and intriguing music.