Psalm 137’s Haunting Violence

This post was originally given as a prayer at Westview Christian Fellowship

Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem

  • 1 By the rivers of Babylon—
  •    there we sat down and there we wept
  •    when we remembered Zion.
  • 2 On the willows[a] there
  •    we hung up our harps.
  • 3 For there our captors
  •    asked us for songs,
  • and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
  •    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
  • 4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
  •    in a foreign land?
  • 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
  •    let my right hand wither!
  • 6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
  •    if I do not remember you,
  • if I do not set Jerusalem
  •    above my highest joy.
  • 7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
  •    the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
  • how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
  •    Down to its foundations!”
  • 8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
  •    Happy shall they be who pay you back
  •    what you have done to us!
  • 9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
  •    and dash them against the rock!

~Psalm 137

It’s difficult to accept the fact that the Bible describes revenge in such brutal detail as found in Psalm 137. There are other Psalms that ask us to direct our anger in ways that promote peace rather than perpetuate violence but not Psalms 137. Psalm 137 doesn’t temper an author’s fierce anger towards injustice and desire for revenge. It’s important to hear and remember the extent of the anger expressed here because it was apocalyptic verses like these that inspire Christ. He too is angry at the injustice he sees around him and condemns Israel in a similar way as Jeremiah (the prophet we think authored Psalm 137) condemns Babylon.

Psalm 137 is remembered for its violence but also because of the haunting tune set to its lyrics by Don McLean titled “Babylon” linked at the beginning of this post. If we let them, the song and its lyrics can haunt us in three healthy ways.

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Inheritance

Inheritance

For a few years now the family has known that Grandma has cancer. When it was discovered the doctors gave her a few months. Although she’s still almost as spirited as ever it’s become obvious this last year that she won’t be with us much longer. It seems as though the extended farewell has given the family a chance to reflect more intentionally on our inheritance. In fact, we’ve decided to gather next summer to do just this. I thought that before we consider our specific inheritance, it would be helpful to try and define this word and understand the experience. What follows is my effort to do just that.

Naked we enter the world, and completely exposed we desperately need a dwelling place. The sheer fact that some of us have survived the labour of childbirth indicates that a dwelling place is available, that it sits in wait of children to swaddle. At birth, we receive a dual gift from God: a beginning and the means to make new beginnings. This dual gift is the condition of life. As St. Augustine writes, “that there be a beginning, man was created before whom there was nobody.”

This dual gift consists of one’s family, tradition, and heritage, the (inherited) components of a newborn’s dwelling place. Inheritance is something which we are given, something which we did not create nor control. Faith is necessary because of this inherited vulnerability. Such faith does not comfort or appease vulnerability but simply makes it more acute. Insofar as life is a gift, faith is unavoidable.

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Caputo’s The Insistence of God, Chapter 5 and A Childhood Identity

BookThis last semester I’ve been involved in a reading group exploring Caputo’s new book, The Insistence of God, with Jim Olthuis, Author, philosopher, professor, and rollerblader. Last week, Dean, a fellow student who also has a blog and has written about our reading group (his blog is so good I encourage you to stop reading this and head over there), brought our attention to Caputo’s decision to focus on the topic of religion. Caputo gives two related reasons for focusing on religion, even though, according to him, he could just as easily focus on being and finitude. First, religion is more important and less obscure for American culture than being and finitude. Second, Caputo’s own embeddedness in this tradition provokes him to take up his heritage. This interesting (and on some levels disingenuous) rhetorical move, motivated me to think about chapter five without explicitly referencing religion. What does it look like when we remove religion from the discussion?

Perhaps we can have this conversation using an example from my childhood. Back then, I found myself in a context that encouraged competition and sport. This context both enabled and limited me. It limited me in the sense that it determined the perspective through which I saw the world, one full of winners and losers. As unhealthy as this perspective can be, it was a large influence on my choice to self-identify as an athlete. In addition to limiting self-understanding, my competitive social context afforded me the opportunity to learn how to play with others, to lead, and even on the rare occasion, to lose gracefully.

The finite nature of my historical perspective hid from me the “event” taking place in the name athlete. At the age of eighteen, I unexpectedly blew out my knee, an injury that forced me to see the world from a new perspective. The injury made me skeptical (or atheistic) of my own confessed identity. Although I had matured as an athlete, this identity did not fully contain the truth of who I was—past, present, and future. Dogmatically holding on to the name “athlete” would have been detrimental to my own development and a poor expression of self-love. Continue reading