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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Entry 14: Dissonance


April 29, 2014

Dear Friends

Re:  Entry 14

O my God in you I trust, Do not let me be ashamed; Do not let my enemies exult over me”.  This is from Psalm 25 and is a more or less recurrent theme of David’s in the Psalms:  Fear of his enemy, seeking protection of the Lord, taking comfort in the promises of God, and so forth.   The “enemy” is often unnamed; at least by David in the Psalms, but in reading the rest of the Bible the enemy is very real.  It occurred to me one day while reading the Psalms that I always tended to see myself as David, and I wondered how many other people did this—put themselves in David’s shoes, read the Psalms in the first person, saw themselves as the oppressed.

Some time, about two years ago, I was driving down the interstate listening to the radio.  It was a rental car and it had a little button on the steering wheel that let you scan to the next station.  It was a very boring drive, also a very easy drive, I was not really thinking of anything else but I noticed something:  I knew at least some of the words to every song on every station.  Maybe it was some amazing run of luck, if there is luck, or coincidence, but every time a commercial came on I switched stations and I would know the song on that station too.  This was pretty amazing.  There is no longer a show “Name That Tune”, but I would not only have been able to name it, I would have been able to sing along.  At one point I counted twenty-seven (27!) songs in a row.  I happily did this for about an hour, almost subconsciously when I got bored with a song, or when a commercial came on, I would hit “scan” and it would go to the next station.   At one point I sang, all the lyrics from “Sweet Talking Woman” by E.L.O, “Country Roads” by John Denver (I really yelled this one out, it was a warm day, I had the windows down, I don’t have to worry about my hair being messed up), “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles (pronounce that in a fake English accent:  “the BATE-els”). 

[Now an aside.  Some announcer on the radio (maybe Don Imus?) asks guests who would be on their “Musical Mount Rushmore”.  Mine would be Johnny Cash, John Denver, John Lennon and Jeff Lynne.  Some will say this is crazy, I have my reasons for all of them, and I’ve remained pretty faithful to that list.  In cash you are wondering, Jeff Lynne was the guy behind the Electric Light Orchestra which to me represents the best band ever, even including the Beatles. Chew on that list for a while.]

Back to the rental-car-radio-interstate-windows-down-song-knowing thing:  After a while, about an hour or so, I realized what I was doing—it was so subtle, I was even fooling myself—when I didn’t know the song, didn’t recognize it, or it was a station that played a format I could not possibly understand (that would be rap or classical, both mysteries to me), I would simply skip over it.  Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance”, which is essentially only picking up on those facts that agree or support a certain point of view; to paraphrase my grandmother “you only see what you want to see”.  And yet it was true, it was exactly what I was doing, and it was so subtle it alarmed me.  That I could beguile myself into this on so trivial a basis, I had to wonder:  Do I do this in other things as well?

And did I do this in reading the Bible?  I believe I did.  I tended to put myself in the role of the oppressed and not the oppressor.  Is it conceivable that I was only the recipient of pain, grief, angst, whatever—or is it possible that sometimes I am the cause of that in others?  It has transformed how I read—put yourself in the shoes of Caiaphas, and be honest in that role and what his responsibilities were.  Or put yourself in the role of Judas and ask yourself if you can see how he failed?  Most of us, including me, cannot really do this because it is too painful; it goes against the grain of what we know to be.  We can’t be the oppressors can we?  That would somehow imply that we were and could be wrong. 

It is really hard to imagine never being wrong (seeing as I feel like I am mostly wrong).  I have always thought that one real difference between Peter and Judas was while both had betrayed Jesus in his own way; both approached that sin and its resolution differently.  Judas could not, in his life-view, countenance what he had done, he knew just like Peter knew that it was wrong.  While probably truly sorry, Judas sought to reconcile what he had done with his own vision of himself—and by extension sought out his own death to end his pain.  Peter, in all his reactionary, bombastic, sometimes wrongheaded ways, ultimately reached out for the forgiveness of the Lord.  Remember, the Lord told him-“and when you recover, strengthen the others”, because he knew what Peter would do even when Peter could not imagine it.
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to look into yourself.

I remain

Fessler