Saturday, September 19, 2015

Reading Psalm 56 Upside Down

I've read Psalm 56 many a time, especially in hard moments of ministry, and have found it of great comfort and encouragement.

It's a Psalm regarding David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath (as the notes say).
Of course, the Philistines are the enemy, and David the victim of their cruelty and great evil. Poor David, we assume, and with him, we shed tears and give thanks that god is his side, and sooner or later these evil Philistines (is that not a redundancy?) will meet their just end - defeat at the hands of the righteous David.
But this morning, I read it upside down.
I found myself reflecting on two moments:
1) Recently, the Kim Davis Affair, and how easily we can isolate ourselves from all questions about our behavior and assume, with plenty of encouragement from friends, family and fellow-believers, that we're in the right, without question, god is on our side, and the enemy is the one who opposes us.
2) My reading of "Empire of the Summer Moon" - about the Comanche and Texas - the clash of two powerful, violent cultures, both given to war and conquest, both wanting land. In the case of the Comanche, land that belonged to them because of their conquest of other tribes, their successful use of Spanish horses, having defeated both the Spanish and the Mexicans, but unable to defeat the Americans, because of their overwhelming numbers of settlers moving westward, their diseases, weapons and the buffalo hunters. Violence on both sides, incredible violence. In the hands of the Americans, it was all turned against the Comanche, the only good one being a dead one. And, for the American, it was their Christianity that gave them the right to this land; it was their manifest destiny. The Indian, unbaptized and pagan, had no rights whatsoever. And if the Comanche are cruel and violent, just wait: Americans know how to be just as cruel and violent, and then some, and all in the name of god.
How different is this Psalm when read upside down.
David might have asked himself:
1) Why do the Philistines see me as enemy?
2) Is it because of my "faith in god," or because I want their land, I want them gone, I want them defeated and dead?
3) Is it because I believe in manifest destiny: god gave this land to us and told us to kill everyone in it, including women and children and even livestock?
Given what I know of David and history, it's no longer possible for me to read this Psalm sympathetically. It's way too easy to read it and simply see "the other" as "enemy" and myself as "the righteous one." Way too easy to exonerate myself and vilify the one "hurting" me.
If David were a counselee, a good counselor would likely explore with him how he's offended and hurt others. How his beliefs and attitudes put others off and alienate them. How his views of life are essentially narcissistic, and his self-serving view of god is the root of violence toward others. A wise counselor would explore this sensibility, "that god is on my side exclusively, and what the Philistines have is mine to take because god said so."
I have read this Psalm in times of turmoil, and been comforted by it, and may well read again in that light.
But it's a dangerous Psalm that can easily blind the reader to her or his own sin against others, and blind the reader to the humanity of the "enemy."
It's a Psalm that needs to be read upside down.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I Have My Work Cut Out for Me!

For much of my career (ordained #PCUSA, Jan. 1970), I've been aware of the great divide in this nation: Ecumenical Protestantism, Progressive Judaism and Liberal Catholicism on one side, and on the other side, Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism.

For lots of reasons, I suppose, I've always reached out to Evangelicals and Fundamentalists - no big deal, I'm sure - like a cup o'coffee or a hamburger and some conversation. I wanted to be a bridge builder.

Can't say that it ever worked! Generally, they believed I wasn't even a Christian, or, at best, a very poor one. Though I've never thought of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists as "not Christian," though I was never comfortable with their "conversionist" theology, me being a "covenantal" thinker, with infant baptism as the liturgical cornerstone illustrating God's sovereignty in these matters. Many a time, I was told they would be praying for me, and on a number of occasions, I asked them not to pray, since their prayer was mostly a call to God to change me into their own image - hardly a prayer of love, and surely not a prayer for learning together about God's greatness.

Anyway, the divide has only grown wider ... what was at one time a silence between the two sides has now escalated into a shouting match, as Evangelicals find themselves on the losing side of the Marriage Equality question.

Evangelicals certainly have had their day in the sun, you might say, ever since Ronald Reagan learned how to play them to his political advantage, and there was a time when they felt on top of the heap, and crowed ever day, with books and sermons, that Ecumenical Protestantism was on its last legs, and there would be a new Evangelical America free of abortion, without Marriage Equality, with Bibles and prayers in the schools along with creationist curriculum.

Well, that certainly didn't come to pass, and now the sun seems to be shifting a bit, with Evangelicals now confused, because it seems that their god is no longer working things out as had been expected. And all of this is turning into a deep and violent anger.

The current state of affairs is very disheartening. I don't even know any longer how to talk to an Evangelical ... whatever we might have had in common 30 years ago now seems to have evaporated.

Evangelicals, led by the Huckabees and Santorums, have hardened in their thinking and politics in light of Marriage Equality - because what they truly what is a theocracy, not a democracy. Sadly, much of this Evangelical fervor now is tangled up in Southern Nullification, old-line racism, State's Rights, misogyny, and guns.

FOX News has chimed in on this, too, with full voice, and GOP candidates have joined the fray, all trying to out-Bible one another, yacking endlessly about "religious freedom" and the rights of believers to "practice their faith."

It's a first-class mess, and I have no idea how to deal with it, other than to be what I am - and to articulate my vision as clearly and compassionately as I can, and do so with passion, too, not laying down in front of the Evangelical freight train, but countering it with clear and incisive theology and ethics.

I have my work cut out for me.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Before More Damage Is Done

There are times when the very word "christian" rests bitter in my mind and heart.

What with the media's fascination with evangelicals and their bigotry, and what with the megachurches trumpeting their special brand of power and miracles, with their steel-jawed preachers and their bosomy beauties, in the minds of many, this is what Christianity is all about.

Meanwhile, more thoughtful Christians, and, yes, there are plenty of them, sit back, mostly stunned into silence, hoping the whole mess will sort itself out.

Perhaps it will ... I get the feeling that evangelicals have gotten about as crazy and mean-spirited as they can get, short of resorting to arms and killing the "heathen" (I guess some of the swamp-bred militias are doing just that, or at least, want to).

I have always believed that Americans are mostly sensible. Religious, yes, but with a certain restraint and will not long tolerate religious extremism, of any kind.

I have always believed, as well, in the primal character of the Spirit of God, the Creator God - that the Spirit always hovers over the chaos and darkness, calling for light, and bringing forth a degree of order, process and progress toward cohesion, creating an environment in which life can emerge, evolve and prosper.

How it works, I don't know, but it works; that much I know.

I can only hope that it works soon enough, to contain the monstrous distortions of the Christian Faith, these days combined with the fascist instincts of wealth and power, before any more damage is done.