Yearn. Psalm 72:4.
Matthew David Morris (@mattmorris) is a hellion-in-training at Iliff School of Theology. Part songwriter, part storyteller, part critical philosopher, his words aim to lay bare with poetic care the harder truths of our day. He blogs at matthewdavidmorris.com and lives in Portland, Oregon with his agnostic husband and their queer kid.
“May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”
I yearn for deliverance from this shitshow.
I’m angry. Have been for weeks. The anger seeps into the corners of my mind and spray paints over all my needlepoint pictures of Jesus. My walls are tagged with #FuckThisShit. It’s been raining for days, and it doesn’t ever seem to get bright enough. I’m a mess this Advent season.
I’m not angry at the Church, even though I have cause. But will the Church provide a space for me to let out these emotions? It won’t be long before my speech is censored by the State (it’s worth taking a tyrant at his word), so where will I go if I can’t even scream my lament inside the sanctuary?
How did we let this happen? How did we allow the world to become what it has become?
These emotions, which teeter back and forth between a soft, seething anger and a raw, molten rage position me well outside the cultural mores of my polite Protestant Church. We get concerned, but we don’t rage. We feel awful over things, but we don’t pull out our hair and rend our garments. Or if we do — heaven forbid, if we do — we seek a quick recovery. We compartmentalize our emotional reaction to the horrors of this world in order to get back to whatever feels ordinary.
But what is ordinary now? Resisting autocracy, or keeping up with football season? Hypervigilance, or successful holiday shopping? In this new era of absurdity politics, it’s impossible to pin down what is ordinary and what is not.
“Crush the oppressor.”
Until quite recently, I’ve never been the kind of Christian who delighted in the imagination of God’s wrath. But now I read “crush the oppressor” and I think,
Yes. Please, God. Please crush the oppressor. Please make it a crushing worthy of John’s Revelation. Please crush the oppressor that lives within each of us and make us anew out of clay. Wipe the slate clean. Pillars of salt. Lake of fire. Whatever — anything! Please just fucking make this nightmare end.
But is that just nihilism cloaked in Christian eschatology? Is that letting us off too easy?
Psalm 72, in full, can be read as a messianic vision of the coming Kingdom of God or as a prayer for a transitioning government, depending on whether or not your Bible capitalizes the “k” in “king “ and “s” in “son.” Reading Jesus into these words allows me to imagine Jesus as the ruler I’m waiting for; the King whom I ask to deliver us from the evil, worldly oppressor. When Jesus comes, we can stop with the bullshit. When Jesus is King (which Christians already affirm him to be) the idiot rulers will no longer rule, and the tyranny will cease.
That should make me, a Christian, feel better. But it does not.
I don’t want for the oppressor to be crushed in some metaphoric or supernatural future. I want it now. I don’t want to wait for Jesus. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but I don’t care. I don’t want to wait. I hate the feeling of waiting. I hate the idea that we should tolerate injustice here and now because at some point in the future Jesus will clean all of this up. That seems like utter nonsense to me.
Maybe this isn’t nihilism, but it certainly doesn’t feel like hope.
I need something to help me fight off this despair.
Howard Thurman offers this consolation:
“During these turbulent times we must
remind ourselves repeatedly
that life goes on.
This we are apt to forget.
The wisdom of life transcends our wisdoms;
the purpose of life outlasts our purposes;
the process of life cushions our processes.
The mass attack of disillusion and despair,
distilled out of the lack of hope
has so invaded our thoughts that what we know
to be true and valid
seems unreal and ephemeral.
There seems to be little energy left for aught but futility.”
“This is the great deception.
By it whole people have gone down to oblivion
without the will to affirm the great and permanent strength
of the clean and the commonplace. Let us not be deceived.”
Yes, but how?
“It is just as important as ever to attend to the little graces
by which the dignity of our lives is maintained and sustained….
…To drink in the beauty that is within reach,
to clothe one’s life with simple deeds of kindness,
to keep alive a sensitiveness to the movement
of the spirit of God in the quietness of the human heart
and in the workings of the human mind —
this is as always the ultimate answer to the great deception.”
This makes sense. This feels like the counterpoint to my rage. This is the thing which makes it possible for me to not only read “crush the oppressor” but also, “defend the cause of the poor.”
There is so much more to the resistance of oppression than just anger. I need to remember that.
There is my husband’s offer to make lunch. And the dogs that need to be taken out. And the text from my mom. And the last bit of coffee from this morning’s pot. And the prayer I offer in the midst of the chaos. And the sound of this quiet room. And the feeling of this long exhale.
I need to spend a moment with those things. Perhaps you do, too. The world is not what we would like it to be. And we may not like the waiting, but waiting is inevitable. The very least we could do, for the sake of our own sanity and well being, is to attend to those little graces. Give them our attention. Let them feed us. Let them make the waiting a little more bearable.
Let yourself be loved. Love in defiance of the absurdity. Be soft with yourself.
We still have many days yet to survive.