For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
Composers have been setting texts of scripture to music for, well, longer than written music has existed. As is the case with the music of every age, most of these settings have lacked any enduring quality and have fallen by the wayside, but a few special pieces have enjoyed continuous use over the centuries. Think of that glorious setting of Psalm 100 or “Old Hundredth” from the Genevan Psalter (1551), or Handel’s use of multiple texts from throughout the Authorized Version in Messiah (1741). While few would argue that from a musical standpoint The Byrds’ setting of the above text from Ecclesiastes stands up to Handel, Turn, Turn, Turn (1965) is a catchy tune, and thousands of listeners have unwittingly learned the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes 3 by hearing and singing it. Tonight I have no intention of writing a lengthy piece on how to set scripture to music, but I did have this text in mind and can’t think of it at all without singing that song. Perhaps the church would indeed have benefited had The Byrds written more scripture songs.
For the past four days our son has been visiting my parents, and while I’d like to report that my wife and I have enjoyed a period of unprecedented productivity, for the most part we have rested and caught up on reading, though I have puttered about a bit on a couple of small projects in the house. On more than one occasion during these recent days we have marveled at just how much time parenting even one child occupies, and we almost haven’t known what to do with the extra time available to us. As I’ve written in several previous reflections in this space, Jennifer and I were married for nearly nine years before becoming parents through adoption, and so in our young married lives we enjoyed the peculiar freedom that comes with childlessness for a longer period than many of our friends did. That additional free time allowed us to pursue further education, save some money, and have a fuller level of involvement in the church and particularly one of our favorite parachurch organizations, The Gideons International. While in our early years as Gideons we were present at many of the regular meetings and even held officer positions, as parenting has occupied more of our lives my involvement has been reduced to participating in occasional scripture distributions, attending a weekly prayer breakfast, and periodically speaking in churches. Her involvement has lessened even more.
While I hope that we will one day be able to again participate in the Gideon ministry and other worthwhile activities in a more fulsome way, my only regret at present has to do with the attitude of my younger self toward other young men or young couples who from my perspective didn’t “do their part” in the church or ministries like the Gideons. Completely oblivious to the real demands of childrearing, I judgmentally assumed that if I had time to participate in this kind of work, so did they, and they simply chose not to do so, leaving most of the work to the mostly retired men who, incidentally, project the image most folks seem to associate with our organization. Certainly we all make choices regarding how to spend our time, and if I put my mind to it perhaps I could even do more work with the Gideons, or at church, or other kinds of volunteering outside the home. But could I so invest that time without compromising necessary obligations of equal or greater importance? Or perhaps to put it even more stridently, do my responsibilities to my family and my employer matter before God just like church-related work does?
As I mentioned in a post just a few weeks ago, one of the most important doctrinal rediscoveries of the Protestant Reformation was that in Scripture God infuses ordinary work with dignity and value, not only specifically religious activities or ecclesiastical vocations. Moreover, we are called to do everything “heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23). If I am to adequately fulfill my present callings as husband and father on the one hand and as musician and teacher on the other, I cannot without sin take on so many additional activities and obligations that I do a disservice to my employer, or to my family. This is not to say I have no obligations to the church, of course, but it is one thing to diligently partake of the means of grace and teach my family to do the same. It is another to run ourselves ragged in an ironic bid to better serve God and neighbor in the name of the One who invited us to come unto Him and rest.
Several months ago my wife and I both read a recent book by Michael Horton (b. 1964) entitled Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. A recurring theme in Dr. Horton’s writings and podcasts of late has been the repudiation of the uniquely American version of evangelicalism—with its oversized churches, celebrity culture among some pastors, and armies of volunteer laborers doing work of dubious eternal value—in favor of, again, the ordinary means of Word, sacrament, and prayer which God has promised in scripture to bless. In other words, it is most often through ordinary people in ordinary churches doing ordinary things that God is pleased to further his work in the world. Rather than running out of the door to every conceivable church activity or Gideon meeting or whatever, perhaps I really do best to be home with my family most nights, to read scripture and pray and sing with them, and to rest in the promise that despite the poverty of our efforts at times (family worship at our house is an occasionally sublime but often sleepy and sometimes angry affair), God really does use these ordinary things to build his kingdom.
Yesterday eleven of us Gideons placed Bibles in a new hotel in town, and I was thankful for the opportunity to participate. While there was a little sadness that I am so often absent from our gatherings and efforts these days, I hope that I am doing the best I can to serve God and neighbor in this season of my life. One day, Lord willing, there will be an “empty nest” and then retirement, and the additional time that comes with that season.
Hopefully we’ll still be allowed to give away Bibles when that day comes.
“For everything there is a season,” and that includes blogging. I’ll be devoting my attention to other things for the next several weeks, and will return here with a new post sometime around August 20 (D.V.). I suppose I might interrupt my planned hiatus if some topic arises that merits my immediate attention, but then again it is not as if the world really needs my opinion about anything. In any case, I already have a full slate of planned topics for the late summer and fall, and will look forward to sharing those thoughts with you then.