“I never knew what the psalmist meant by ‘enemies’ until I came out in the church,” a seminarian told us. Her poignant words hung in the air, resonating in the experience of the small support group of LGBT Christians.
I’ve been revisiting the Psalms, and must admit many of them no longer touch me as they once did when facing opposition in the church. The praising and awe-filled ones still uplift me; but many more sound whiny, petulant, and self-absorbed—especially those attributed to the king: reminds me too much of the self-pitying tweets we’ve been exposed to lately. I also cannot claim the innocence or the righteousness before God that many psalms do.
I believe it was Bonhoeffer who recommended understanding the psalms that plead for justice as voiced by someone else in the world more needful than we. But even this act of the imagination has taxed me during my morning prayers.
Until last night.
We watched Netflix’s Get Me Roger Stone, a film about a master of political dirty tricks, one arrogantly proud of his lies and innuendo and misinformation to elect his clients and betray their opponents. And this morning I read Psalm 64 (NRSV), which I believe speaks to this betrayal of both the righteous and the innocent:
Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;Preserve my life from the dread enemy.Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,from the scheming of evildoers,who whet their tongues like swords,who aim bitter words like arrows,shooting them from ambush at the blameless;they shoot suddenly and without fear.They hold fast to their evil purpose;they talk of laying snares secretly,thinking, “Who can see us?Who can search out our crimes?We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.”For the human heart and mind are deep.But God will shoot [God’s] arrow at them;they will be wounded suddenly.Because of their tongue [God] will bring them to ruin;all who see them will shake with horror.Then everyone will fear;they will tell what God has brought about,and ponder what [God] has done.Let the righteous rejoice in the Lordand take refuge in [God].Let all the upright in heart glory.
Then I turned to my continued reading of Matthew, which happened to be the passage about Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. Judas tells his “clients”: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” The footnoted alternative, “Other ancient authorities read righteous,” seems truer. “Righteous blood” seems more valuable than “innocent blood,” as it suggests the life of someone who, against all odds, has done what was right and good and just.
That would be Jesus, in Matthew’s story. In our own story, that could be compassionate and justice-seeking leaders besmudged by false accusations.
“I would rather be among the killed than among the killers,” I once heard the German theologian Dorothee Sölle tell an anti-nuclear arms gathering in Los Angeles. She clarified, saying something like, “I wouldn’t want fear to change my nature as non-violent.”
Nor can we let anger change us or our methods.
“Hate is more motivating than love,” is one of Roger Stone’s axioms.
A case in point: a few verses after Judas’s betrayal in Matthew’s gospel, the fickle crowds, roused by Jesus’ enemies, elected the volatile and violent Barabbas over the peaceful and compassionate Jesus.
I pray to God that I may hate injustice rather than those who inflict it, hate “alternative facts” rather than those who promote them, hate the lack of compassion rather than those who fail at empathy.
Self-righteous straight Christians claimed (and many still claim) about LGBT people that they “hated the sin, but loved the sinner.” But we knew this was misinformation.
And Holocaust survivors should not be expected to hate anti-Semitism rather than those who inflicted theirs.
That’s why the psalmist is so honest, so truthful, so real while saying of those “shooting from ambush at the blameless”:
“Because of their tongue God will bring them to ruin.”
P.S. After watching Get Me Roger Stone, watch HBO’s The Words that Built America to get the bad taste out of your mouth.
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