Examining Wright

So, Rev. Wright is back. It will be interesting to me to see if this helps or harms Obama. But in this space I thought it might be more interest to dissect the famous 9/11 sermon and see what we think. The full text is provided by Andrew Sullivan here. For now, let’s just start with this part:

“Every public service of worship I have heard about so far in the wake of the American tragedy has had in its prayers and in its preachments, sympathy and compassion for those who were killed and for their families, and God’s guidance upon the selected Presidents and upon our war machine, as they do what they do and what they gotta do — paybacks.

There’s a move in Psalm 137 from thoughts of paying tithes to thoughts of paying back, A move, if you will from worship to war, a move in other words from the worship of th God of creation to war against those whom God Created. And I want you to notice very carefully this next move. One of the reasons this Psalm is rarely read, in its entirety, because it is a move that spotlights the insanity of the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred.

Now this is interesting. Right from the git go, we see that the first authority Wright questions is not the government’s, but the psalmist’s. So, what about that 137th Psalm:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,

3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .

6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-

9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

Hmm, didn’t Toby Keith write a song like this song not long after September 11. He’s right, of course, that we seem to avoid the end of this Psalm, while verses 1-4 are familiar to me if, from nothing else, from Godspell.

I think his warning about not moving to quickly to war is wise. And pointing to how authorization of the divine often accompanies such moves is another point of wisdom. Here’s the way he put it a few lines later: Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock. And that, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be, yet that is where the people of faith are in the 551BC, and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD.

Good stuff. Agree?

3 thoughts on “Examining Wright”

  1. I’m unsure I follow. Wright is saying “Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock.”?

    I also do not think I follow the point of the end of the psalm. I am being exhorted not to forget Zion. I can’t see what the author’s stance is on retaliatory violence, should I?

  2. No, the Psalmist is saying that those who dash baby’s brains against the Rock are blessed. He explicitly warns that this is a dangerous place to be, that is, a place where you think dashing a baby’s brain against a rock makes one blessed. He goes on to say “yet that is where the people of faith are in the 551BC, and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD.

    The Psalm is also pretty clear. Verses 8 & 9 say that the oppressor of Israel is doomed to destruction. Happy are those who repay the oppressor for what it has done. That is clearly longing for a time when violence will fall upon the people of Babylon. It reminds me a lot of our discussion of Revelation wherein the author clearly yearned for violence to fall upon Rome (called Babylon for safety). The difference being, in Revelation, the author dreamed of an army of angels to do the work, here, the Psalmist is exorting the people of Israel to get their hands dirty.

    Does that make sense, or am I reading something into it? It seems pretty explicit to me.

  3. The psalm begins by lamenting the fate of the Jerusalemites (is that a word?) who have lost their home and are being tauntingly prodded by their oppressors to render a happy spiritual song despite their plight. A situation that might be especially evocative for descendants of slaves, I might point out.

    Then, I think the psalmist reminds himself that perhaps he _should_ sing of Jerusalem, for he should not allow himself to forget that his homeland and his God are the sources of his highest joy, no matter where he finds himself, perhaps even more so when he is cut off from them.

    The final verses are not clear to me only in that I am not familiar enough with the material to know if the description of doomed Babylon and happy baby dashers is prophecy or history or ironic hypothetical or what. Out of context as it is, I am tempted to read it as stating that Babylon (the bad guys) are doomed by God for f-ing with his chosen people and that the Jerusalemists (I like making up new identities!) are going to be happy when the retribution comes in the form of the dashed babies of the evil-doers.

    This doesn’t immediately mean to me that the Jerusalemarians are going to do the bashing (maybe God will simply smite them), nor that the act of babay bashing is a “blessing” (perhaps it is simply a necessary tactic to achieve earthly victory).

    Now, I haven’t yet read your follow-up posts, nor Wright’s complete sermon, but I do think that Wright is saying, “hey, we Americans are in a baby-bashing mindset, and not without reason, but let’s think for a minute about what that means for us and whether there isn’t a price to pay for embracing that.”


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