Basic Breakdown of the Psalms: A Book Review

Zondervan has published another addition their Essential Bible Companion series, this time focusing on the Psalms. This Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, by Brian L. Webster (associate professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary) and David Beach ( a licensed counselor who teaches psychology and spiritual formation courses at Cornerstone University) clocks in at 185 pages and does no less than cover every Psalm coupled with several charts. They sent me the book to review it, and here it goes.

Design and Structure
The Design of the book follows the format of other books in the series. It’s colorful, has nice photography, legible font at a nice readable type size, large bold headings letting you know exactly where you are. They know how to move the eye.

And the information on the page is no different. Each Psalm is split into several sections listed as:

  • Theme: the main idea of the Psalm
  • Type: the literary form of the Psalm (lament, praise, royal, etc)
  • Author: who wrote it or musical notations
  • Backgorund: self-explanatory
  • Structure: how the stanzas are grouped with a sketch of the thought-flow.
  • Special Notes: some commentary on words or images in the Psalm.
  • Reflection: or Application to us today.

For example, you can open up to say Psalm 45 and see the theme of God blessing the king; that the type is a Royal psalm; that it is a maskil of the Sons of Korah to the tune of “Lilies”; that the Psalm is divided into an address to the King, then the grandeur to the King, then a description of the Bride. The Special Notes section describes this imagery pointing to areas of trade in the ancient world and some other details (like maskil may mean “skillful” or “making prudent”) The application shows us that the themes for marriage appear in other places in Scripture and that marriage applies to all marriages.

Likewise, Psalm 137 (one I touched on here in the Bible Archive) gives us the historical background of the Psalm (Judah has been sacked by Nebuchadnezzar; Edom is ransacking and pillaging Jerusalem) and then points to other passages where punishment oracles are leveled against Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13-14; Jeremiah 50-41; Hab 2).

Language and Readership
The writing in the book is concise, not making citations for further reading, focused on the Biblical resource available to believers, and written in a way that could come alongside a morning devotional. Even the earliest section of the book which focuses on explaining the types of literature (lament, royal, etc) or focusing on the poetic structure isn’t so much an integral part of the book as much as offering an explanation for the language that comes later in the book.

So when you get to the chart that divvies up the Psalms into categories, you’ve already been exposed to the language that is being used, and the idea of meditating on the Psalms in our everyday situation. In the words of the authors

“To own thee expressions as ours, we not only shape their words with our mouths, but we must let our spirits be guided by their wisdom. So we copy the psalmists, changing out our particular situation for theirs, yet follow their lead in approaching God.

Its self-evident then that the book is aimed as an informative guide to what is fundamental, or basic, in each of these Psalms so that the Christian can sit and think on them on their day to day.

Some nitpicks.
It’s beyond the scope of the book, so I can’t fault them for not doing what I proceed to suggest, but I would like it if there were (a) references for some deeper studies and (b) more application on how it ties to Christ—like a Christological section. I think the book is helpful, yes, but those would have made the book perfect for me.

Concluding thought
In fact, I would recommend the book as a joiner with anyone who does morning devotionals, is interesting in doing devotions, or anyone who hasn’t read the Psalms and want to start. This breaks it down without being overbearing, it’s easy to process the information, and it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: give you the essentials.

More reviews here.

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Presidential Image: Designed For Voters

It’s that time of the season when the cherry blossoms are in bloom; the cardinals are frolicking with the robins; when the morning dew mingles with the morning showers; and where presidential hopefuls start putting their foot forward. Ah, can you smell feel it?

That’s right, we’re past the mid-term mark and political muscles are flexing while Presidential hopefuls aim at glomming onto any issue.

But in this virtual world, we find that although politics moves fast, image moves faster. And nothing moves your image like a web site, money, networking and a tight-brand: something that politicians before President Barack Obama didn’t really do successfully.


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The President is in the lead with the Dream Design Team. They maintained some of the same elements from the previous incarnation. The genius “O” logo is still prominent. The simplicity is still there. But they also did something very subtle.  The design elements from Barack Obama’s original site was carried over into the White House giving the site a gorgeous look. Previous administrations were big on giving as much information as possible on the White House page.


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The new design team realized that the problem wasn’t that they had too much content to organize, it was that they had to simplify how it was being received. That they did with the same style of the original campaign site.


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The President’s new site is not repeating all of the same design elements. It’s gotten even simpler. Social networking tools that worked for him n the past are in the fore. The call to actions are both prominently placed by yet another genius logo (2O12) . Just about every icon is explained but without being fussy. A solid site.


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Tim Pawlenty launched his site and it is also tight. The design team here isn’t trying to copy anyone beyond current web practice with a nicely organized and prettified site. The call to action is prominently located beneath the Log-In button (upper right hand corner is primo real estate) and the slider makes a point of constantly calling the reader to Learn More. It is a site that declares the campaign hopes with fists flailing.


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Enter Mitt Romney. When seeing Pawlenty’s site, I can’t help remembering Romney’s ’07 design. Romney, bravely facing the charge, information all prominent, American flag waving. It was so TA-DA! I WAS MADE TO BE YOUR PRESIDENT! It was also overload. The guy wanted to say so much that we couldn’t really see what he was saying. He didn’t learn the lesson of the better designed sites (like McCain’s and Obama’s) which focused on talking points and call to actions.


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The new Romney site is different from all of these while being very much the same. It recalls the simplistic elements of the Obama team—which comes off horrendously. It tries to incorporate the American flag and People into the R (recalling the Land-flag of the Obama logo), it uses a familiar tag line and a beloved typeface (which should have been avoided since it was also used by Obama), and it uses similar call to actions in prominent positions.


mittromney

But it is only a video of a man at a baseball field (recalling the American dream?) asking questions. Instead of flashiness, he’s going with being genuine. This dude has tons of money and could have plastered the site with a hot design but, for an understandable reason, chose something subtle. He wants to try to tap into a wide range of people—dissatisfied Democrats, Tea Partiers, Republicans, and Independents who aren’t committed to either party.  Is he successful? Well, design wise, not really. He could have done all that with a better design (definitely something else with the logo) but we can see what he’s aiming at. Romney for the People—not for Republicans. It’s probably why he’s getting nailed on both sides.

In all, I think that Obama still has the best site so far. It’s probably going to stay that way, too. The brand is consistent, the images are clear, the content unobtrusive, and the call to actions are clear: great job Mr. President.

Regina Clark on Southland

Out of all the leading ladies sparkling on TV today, one of them is leading the charge without fulfilling some sort of character mold or being overly weird. Regina King plays Detective Lydia Adams on TNT’s hit police drama Southland, a show already known for breaking the rules.

I’ve said in the past that this is a tight  show that pulls its punches only before hitting you with an uppercut. Taking the idea of the hand-cam documentary cops show, they follow officers in a carefully scripted story arc with very adult subtleties.

So Regina King plays a cop who really cares for people but is working the detective beat in one of the toughest areas. She is tough-minded and gutsy but has no problem reflecting the soft sensibilities of a woman who is still very much woman.

And that’s what makes her character great. When she finally lets her guard down they put her in a tough spot and make her cop-side all the more powerful. Anyone who caught season one would remember gangsters breaking into her house and her singlehandedly taking them out with a shotgun. This season was no different as she walks into a factory, against the flowing tide of fleeing humans, towards a psychopath with a machine gun. Without pulling what other shows do (reminding us of what happened earlier in the episode) we see the story arc come full circle giving us a tight cycle but with a very adult approach: you don’t have to be told to be reminded; you just have to follow the story. And Regina manages to make you care as you follow.

Solid show even if the language is rough and the situations are often sordid but totally worthwhile following Regina’s Detective Adams throughout Southland.

Goodbye 2010: Decade in Review and Junk

In our lifetime we’ll only get a few moments to wax poetic and review things from our narcissist pinnacle, and with MCF now being gone from the blogging world, I am left picking up the slacker’s slack. In this post, I want to flashback over the last ten years and declare, as only a person who is overly self-assure can, what is the best-of-the-best-of-the-decade. Of course, this also being the end of 2010, I’ll have to also touch on the Best-of-the-Best of 2010. And maybe, I might just throw in the best of my blog posts, to put a cherry on top of my ego.

This was a crazy 10 years. I went from just getting married in 1999 to being a father of 3 and now owning a second dog. I moved from the capital of the World to the middle of No Where. I went from Art Director to Senior Art Director slash Web Designer. Life is crazy. And here’s the Decade in Review to prove it!

Music: Although somewhat hard, Pearl Jam and Nirvana‘s best stuff is firmly grounded in the 90s so I don’t have to care as much about my choices. And yet, the 2000’s gave us the return of Michael Jackson with Invincible, his first album in 6 years and the last album he’d produce before dying!

News:The news was CRAZY this decade so to try to pin it down only one story is ridiculous. Don’t mind me if I cheat by splitting the categories

Entertainment: I love me my entertainment and I would’ve had some serious problems but we’ve had some real stand outs this decade.

Books:

Tek: Yeah there’s been a whole mess of technological advances so I’m just going to list some tops.

Blog Posts: Narcissim at its best.

The Constitution: Let There Be…A Nation

We the People of the United States…do ordain

I noted that the preamble really wasn’t the setting down of laws, rights or anything but I purposefully didn’t mention the monumental importance of the language that was used.

The States of the Americas were already labeled “united” in the Articles of Confederations—but nowhere near the way that the Constitution was using the term.

Each state functioned, essentially, as its own country. They could make their own currency. They could enforce their own state constitutions. Honestly, they could even go to war against one another (if attacked by invasion). When they became the united States, they were the individual states which, together, signed the articles to form a confederation—not a new government. In other words, they weren’t forming a new government; they were merely in union with certain purposes.

For example: if a law had to be passed, all the states had to agree to it and then they may or may not implement it in their own states. A strange predicament that. But this makes sense if it was merely a sort of non-aggression contract. This is why the Articles of Confederation even allowed Canada to be part of the united (small “U”) States if they so wished. Canada wouldn’t be giving up her sovereignty; she’d only be in union with the other States.

Imagine the situation: States, functioning independently, making different currencies, different laws that didn’t function across borders—and the horror of an angry overseas enemy constantly looming. Sure the Articles stuffed in some language about no State making a treaty with England but it’s still a shaky concept when you consider the fractured history of Europe. If anything, even though the Articles were helpful, they would ultimately be a failure resulting in a fractured landmass under the constant thread of a powerful enemy and no way to deal with all the problems without all the States agreeing to the fixes first.

Enter the Constitution.

It doesn’t speak in terms of States coming into an agreement and then forming this central government by ending the previous system and accepting all sorts of inequities; rather it speaks in terms of the people collectively decreeing something into existence which wasn’t there before. The People are the ones who are speaking and ordaining this central government and this then becomes the (capital “U”) United States.

This is interesting since the ordaining of the United States doesn’t necessitate all the States agreeing on a change in Confederation—this United States didn’t have much to do with the Confederation as it was. This was a new thing.

We see in Article 7 (which we’ll get to eventually) it doesn’t speak of enforcing this United States over all the States by merely nine States agreeing on it, rather it speaks of the United States grounded on the Constitution coming into being via ordination by nine States ratifying the thing.

In effect, in the Americas, you would have Canada (up north), The United States (made up of whatever nine states did ratify it) and then all the other States functioning as other Countries.

As states ratified the Constitution, they entered into this more perfect union of an ordained Government rather than signing a treaty of peace with this New Country. In this way, Rhode Island continued to exist as a separate entity while the United States marched on with George Washington as her President. Once Rhode Island finally ratified the constitution they didn’t form a contract with the United States, they became part of the country already known as the United States.

Therefore, the importance of this “We the People of the United States…do ordain” is monumental, even if it isn’t establishing rights or laws. There may have been attempts at democratic governments in the past, even in ancient Greece and Rome, but such attempts ended at the State level. This government, ordained by the People and for the people and ratified by the People of the States was a new thing: for good or ill, the world would watch would wonder and realize that it would never again be the same.