A Contemporary Psalm: Dave Barnes’ “God Gave Me You”

Psalms are like songs, for they are generally sung out loud, have a ritual element, and have a liturgical framework.  Dave Barnes’ song, “God Gave Me You,” is a meaningful song to me.  This song is like a psalm, more specifically a psalm of praise, because this song is about Dave Barnes’ praising a special person in his life who God has given to him.  There is value to this song and the fact that he mentions God so frequently, demonstrates that he, himself, has a relationship with God.  In this song, Dave writes about how God gave him someone in his life that sticks by him during thick and thin, through his ups and downs.  “God gave me you for the ups and downs / God gave me you for the days of doubt / For when I think I’ve lost my way/ There are no words here left to say, it’s true / God gave me you.”  These words are extremely moving and powerful.  Dave Barnes’ sings about a person in his life who he has confidence in no matter what.  This person helps Dave when he feels powerless are down, and makes him feel up and lifted.  He sings about needing this person and “when I think I’ve lost my way / There are no words here left to say, it’s true / God gave me you.”  In this song, Dave is talking about his wife.  However, for the audience of this song, its’ listeners, they can interpret it however they wish.  For me, this song is about God and love.  God has given me such a great family, especially my parents, who have never turned their backs on me, but have always loved and supported me. 

I connect with this song on a deep level and can feel the emotion Dave Barnes’ sing about when I listen to the song.  Additionally, Barnes uses words like “divine,” “angel,” and “martyr.”  He sings, “There’s more here than what we’re seeing / A divine conspiracy / That you, an angel, lovely / Could somehow fall for me / You’ll always be love’s great martyr / I’ll be the flattered fool / And I need you.”   Someone who is “divine,” is someone who has godlike nature, related to God, or is connected with worship.  A “martyr” is somebody who makes sacrifices, who is in pain, or someone put to death for their beliefs.  These three words strike me every time I listen to this song, because they relate to God and the Bible.  God is regarded as a Divine Being.  An “angel,” is a heavenly being, a guardian or a guide (a messenger), a kind person.  In Genesis, Chapter 18, Abraham, welcomed three angelic guests.  As I read on, in Chapter 19, I noticed that two angels go to Sodom, where they are assumed to simply be a pair of human visitors.  I have noticed that in the Bible, angels appear incomparable to human beings, because they are more noble, greater in knowledge, and stronger.  In Psalm 103, angels are mentioned.  “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, obedient to his spoken word” (Psalms 103:20).  The angels here are referred to as “mighty ones.”  In the Bible, a lot of God’s people were put to death, persecuted.  Martyrs from the Bible include Jesus Christ, Stephen, and John the Baptist.

In Walter Brueggemann’s Introduction reading for class, the line “to value fully any psalm” really struck me.  He is right!  Psalms, being like songs, should not just hold value in their beginning or end, but as a complete work.  Brueggemann also writes, that they Psalms Psalms express both sides of the conversation of faith.  He says, “they articulate the entire gamut of Israel’s speech to God, from profound praise to the utterance of unspeakable anger and doubt. On the other hand, as Luther understood so passionately, the Psalms are not only addressed to God. They are a voice of the gospel, God’s good word addressed to God’s faithful people.”  Through Psalms, Brueggemann believes, that the community of faith hears and continues to hear the completely powerful speech of God.  Dave Barnes’ song is a psalm of sorts.  I would categorize “God Gave Me You” as a psalm of “new orientation”, because it is about how “Human life consists in turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God, when joy break through despair. When there has been only darkness, there is light.”  Dave Barnes opens his song with the lyrics “I’ve been a walking heartache / I’ve made a mess of me / The person that I’ve been lately / Ain’t who I wanna be / But you stay here right beside me / Watch as the storm goes through / And I need you.”  These lyrics echo what Brueggemann expresses about “new orientation.”  When Barnes was in despair, his joy of having who God gave him, his wife, in his life, makes his troubles go away.  He sings about needing this person because God gave this person, his wife, to him, as someone who makes him complete, a whole being.  When he doubts, he always has this person to turn to.  In the midst of a storm, this person is the light.

Dave Barnes’ “God Gave Me You” is, in my opinion, a contemporary psalm.  It demonstrates a relationship to the Lord, as well as to his spouse.  Barnes understands love and praises God repeatedly, for having this person in his life.  He uses words that connect to faith and inspires his audience to love and not doubt God.  This song is meaningful to me.  Anyone can sympathize with Barnes, whose song illustrates many common themes experienced by many people at some point in a person’s life.

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Mother Teresa: A Modern Day Prophet, An Angel from God

 The Book of the Prophet Amos presents a historical showing that Israel was a prosperous nation during that time, but that time was also being marked by social injustice.  Amos called for justice and morality.  Similarly, we live in a time of corporate greediness and social inequality, where businesses are controlling and people are marked by their difference in status.  Mother Teresa is a modern day prophet, for throughout her life, she was always trying to deliver a message that didn’t originate with her, but through God the Father.  Mother Teresa gracefully preached, “Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.”  Mother Teresa is a modern prophet because she gave herself fully and devoted her life to Jesus’ cause.  Determinedly, she gave her loving and committed self to the poor, with faith that love was the cure for disease, social injustice, and poverty.  “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”  Mother Teresa is the best example of a modern day prophet, for she truly demonstrated how God wanted people to follow His example.  She never judged anyone based on the color of his or her skin, gender, sexuality, or religion, but rather, was willing to help anyone in need.  Mother Teresa and Amos work hand in hand in their shared message, that there is a lack of justice, which is excessively a problem in the world.  Some wealthy people, living lives of material comforts and excess, are becoming complacent in their wealth in today’s society.  Leading this kind of life can cause one to ignore and trample on the poor.  The Lord speaks of the wealthy and unjust and how “they sell the righteous for silver, and the need for a pair of sandals—they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2.6).  Amos’ speech, in Chapters’ 1 and 2 correspond with this message that the people are living in an unjust society.  Mother Teresa said, “Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given. Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.”  Prophets are always trying to deliver a message that does not originate with them; Mother Teresa served as a messenger of God and Amos preached his prophetic statement that the people haven’t been faithful to God.  

Mother Teresa spread her love across the world by going to poverty-stricken countries and trying to help them in any way that she could.  She graciously voiced, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”  Mother Teresa provided for those who were poor, hungry, and ill, like God, who provided for the people of Israel in the Book of Amos.  God sends plagues to Israel, who has ignored the divine warnings issued through the plagues.  In Amos 4:6, “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all of your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me”, refers to how God provided for Israel during a time where the people had no food to eat.  Similarly, Mother Teresa knew that God would not give her anything she couldn’t handle, so she lived her life teaching, preaching, sharing, and spreading God’s word through her acts of justice, humanity, and love.

A quote that resonates with me by Mother Teresa is, “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”  Comparatively, while reading Amos, I remember thinking how the image of fruit had a special meaning.  In Chapter 8, God asked Amos what he saw and Amos said a “basket of summer fruit”, which represented the nation and people of Israel.  In the end of Amos, 4.13-15, God states how He will rebuild the nation of Israel and how the people “shall make gardens and eat their fruit.”  God is gracious and was willing to forgive the people of Israel for sinning, for He will make their land and people fruitful again.  If you have love, you too, have hope.  Love can be both “ripe” and “fruitful” if one is knowledgeable and experienced in his or her faith in God.  God will provide for those who live their lives in the image and likeness of Him.  “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3.7).  I believe that God works through many people, both men and women, using mankind to spread His Word, just how Mother Teresa also did.  Her inspiring actions and words truly connected with people from all parts of the world, as she motivated and inspired others to hear the Word of God and share it with others.  Mother Teresa humbly said, “I’m a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.”

“Does the Exodus account still tell us something about God even if it’s not historically accurate? Why yes…

While the Book of Exodus was written, or put together, between 500 and 600 BC, the events in Exodus are said to have taken place between 1300 and 1200 BC.  I strongly believe, that while the Exodus accounts may not be historically accurate, these stories still tell us something about God.   For one, the Book of Exodus, more than any other book in the Old Testament, depicts more miracles of God.  “God responds to and saves people who are suffering or oppressed” (82-83).  God’s actions in Exodus include him testing, freeing, guiding, blessing, and speaking to Moses, Pharaoh, Aaron, and the people of Egypt.  God establishes a Covenant with the Israelites and calls Moses to Egypt to free the Israelites and plea to the Pharaoh to free them.  While God does plague Egypt with frogs, gnats, hail, locusts, darkness, and hail, to name a few, He tests the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh’s “hardening heart”.  Finally, by entrusting Moses with His power, Moses parts the Red Sea and the Israelites escape the Egyptians.  Verse 15 in Exodus is in a different literary form than usual, for it includes a song that Moses and Miriam sing.  “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power—your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy” (15, 6).  They praise God for rescuing the Israelites and in return, God provides for them. Despite historical accuracy, the many accounts in Exodus do tell us that God is divine, gracious, righteous, miraculous, a Servant to His people, and a Savior.

The Book of Exodus tells us that God’s desire is to expand His power and glory.  For example, the Lord says to the Pharaoh, “For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But this is why I have let you live: to show you my power, and to make my name resound through all the earth” (9,15-16).  This shows the power of the Almighty God and his righteousness.

God tests Moses throughout Exodus, but He does exemplify his almighty power and that He is absolute, immutable, and eternal.  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (3.14).  Interestingly enough, these simple five words have incredible meaning.  By stating this to Moses, God is validating Himself, showing how He is an unchanging and eternal Being.  Thus, He will be the same today as He is tomorrow and was yesterday.

Throughout Exodus, God proves His attention for details.  God cares about the details and about the decisions people make.  This validates that God wants to be a part of all aspects, and part of the lives of others.  The book of Exodus tells us profound truths about the character of God and the character of man.  Moses told the Israelites as they were escaping the Egyptians, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today…The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (14,13-14).  God proved to Moses His greatness, and thus, Moses trusted Him and spread the Word of God by showing his support and trust in Him.

I believe that by reading Exodus, one can actually feel that they know God.  I know I did, at least.  I learned that while God is not a simple being, He does fulfill His promises, just as He kept his promise to the Israelites to free them from slavery in Egypt and His promise to free the believers from sin.  God also granted glory to all those who believed in Him and His Word.  Regardless of historical accuracy, God is God and He is unchanging.  The stories of Exodus only add to the greatness and marvel of the Lord.  Through reading the accounts in Exodus, my knowledge that God is unchangeable and graceful, is affirmed even more.

God’s Relationship with Humanity is Equal to Abraham’s Obedience through the Binding of Isaac to Save the Faithful

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It was not difficult to choose one story in Genesis 11-22 that demonstrates the relationship between God and humanity, as I feel that the binding of Isaac was the most heartfelt to discuss.  Chapter 22 reveals God’s Almighty Word to Abraham as he proclaims his steadfast faithfulness to God’s command.  He requests the following directive to Abraham as He states, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…” (22:2).  Abraham takes Isaac to the mountains upon God’s request to make a sacrifice of his only son.  Then, Abraham binds Isaac upon a burnt wood offering, on the mount of the Lord.  In Isaac’s innocence and pure heart, he submissively asks his father, “…but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (22:7).  His father replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (22:8).   I believe that God uses Abraham as a symbol who represents the father of all the faithful people.  In this chapter, Abraham represents all of humanity as God unfolds Abraham’s commitment and faithfulness to Him.  With this said, an Angel of God stops Abraham from slaying his only son, as he says to Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (22:13).  Through Abraham’s commitment to his faith, God is proclaiming to all of humanity the relationship He wants with each and every one of us.  He is looking for a full and loyal pledge from each person to devote his or her life and be faithful to Him as Abraham surely exemplified.

In this story, God uses both Abraham and Isaac as symbols of humanity.  While an on-going process, to me, this story shows that humanity shall not abandon God since He helps and guides us, as we share our trust in Him.  For instance, He is demonstrating to the world Abrahams’ faithfulness to Him.  Through the request of the Almighty God, Abraham demonstrates exactly what God wants from him, which is his spiritual surrender to his Almighty Father, as shown through the sacrificing of his only son. This resonates throughout God’s plan among the people who believe in Him.   Additionally, God uses Isaac as a human sacrifice because the pagan world has been practicing this ritual.  The Almighty God feels that this is an abomination to the world in which He created, in His image, and realizes that the sacrifice of Isaac would reveal, through Abraham’s faithfulness, an eternal consequence far above the faith of the pagans presently.  In fact, one can ask how can a deity show human qualities of compassion, love, and obedience?  It must be remembered that it was through Him that all things were created.   Therefore, in Genesis Chapter 22, God reminds us that humans cannot discern between good and evil without fear and obedience to Him, as Abraham, father of the faithful, is put through the ultimate test of his faith to God the Almighty.   Faith in God should be on the forefront in a person’s life because with every thought, action, and question, humanity should have faith that God is always there and able to guide us.

My grandmother always says to me, “Lauren, pray for what God wants for you and not what you want- for He will always give you more than you could ever ask for or imagine.”   This commitment, obligation, and trust in God are key components of the relationship He seeks to have with all of humanity as exemplified in Abraham’s faithfulness.  This picture shows an angel preventing the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham.

An angel prevents the sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham and Isaac, Rembrandt, 1634

How am I a Theologian? I have faith, I seek, and I understand.

What is theology? “Faith Seeking Understanding”-St. Anselm

Theology is “faith seeking understanding”.  I am a theologian for many reasons, but mainly through my experiences.  These experiences have allowed me to reflect, draw upon, and use them to understand more about my faith.  I am a theologian because I have strong faith as a devout Catholic and understand that God’s love is intangible.  It is God’s love that creates everything and keeps everything in existence.

My loving grandmother who was completing chemotherapy sessions at the time. She looks more beautiful than ever! Thank you God for giving her strength.

My strong faith, along with my constant recognition and confidence in my faith, allows me to strengthen my relationship with Him.  I believe in one God who is all knowing, all powerful, full of love, omnipotent, and full of grace.  He makes me a theologian because I believe in His Word and His Teachings.  I have learned that theology is not only going to be purely academic, for it can be artistic, full of words, but also art, music, and film.  My ultimate concern is the things that gives meaning to my life and motivates my decisions.  Thus, my ultimate concern in life is my family.  I recognize that it is a challenge to seek, realize, and understand what my ultimate concern is, but I also know that besides God, my family brings the most meaning to my life.  I worry for their health, worries, and doubts.  I never want to disappoint them in anything that I do.  But, God is the only perfect being in this world, and I cannot be perfect all of the time.  I will always have Him by my side because of the relationship that we share.  He is not only always around me, but has revealed Himself in mysterious ways throughout my life.  My faith is my response to my divine relationship with God.  Along with God, my parents help me when I am wrestling with the meaning and purpose of my life.  I pray to God when I feel anxious or worried, and openly confess my problems and concerns with my family.  I have learned that honesty and openness can truly help a person overcome their fears and worries.  I have also acquired knowledge that theology is communal, done in a community.  I am beginning to understand that I, alone, cannot do everything and it is not something that I can do without context.  Theology shapes my personal context and has a major impact both in and on my life.  As an independent, caucasian, twenty-year old woman from New Jersey, I do see how my social context can affect my ultimate concern in life.  My context matters so much in experience and in my relationships.  Being apart from my family has been difficult, especially since my grandmother, Marie, who lives with me, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that metastasized.  Besides scripture, tradition, and experience, my grandmother is a source for me because she inspires me, we talk about God together, and she has made a true difference in my life.  She is one of the most special people to me, and I cannot put into words how distraught I was when I heard the news.  Seeing her battle through chemotherapy and for her life, was both eye-opening and upsetting.  I never wanted her to feel any pain, nor did I want her to lose her hair and look in the mirror everyday at someone who doesn’t resemble the woman she used to be.  I believe that while her appearance may have changed, she has gained strength and a closer relationship with God through her battle with cancer.  My ultimate concern is my family, not losing my faith.  I know that God will always be there for me and that I can always pray to him for protection, strength, courage, and guidance.  He has never failed me once, throughout my twenty years of being.  Because of all of these reasons, I am a theologian.  I am proud of my faith, a deep believer in Jesus Christ, and an advocate for all things moral and just.  I serve my community and help others, because I truly believe that transformation will come to those who try to make the world a better place.  I am reminded every day of my faith, while my cross hangs around my neck, because when I wear it, I feel safe and loved.  Mother Theresa once said, “We have not come into the world to be numbered; we have been created for a purpose; for great things: to love and be loved.”  I am a theologian because I believe, trust, love, and devote myself to God.