Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mid-Week Sabbath Poetry & Prose: Derek Webb, Rowan Williams, Cormac McCarthy, Psalm 137, and Jesus

I've missed the last couple Sundays for Sabbath Poetry, so I figured I would do a mid-week edition with poetry and prose. (Resident Theology: always upping the ante!) Derek Webb's music and lyrics always speak eloquently and directly to issues of violence and peace, so he was consciously on my mind as I wrote my post on the Mumbai attacks, and lyrics from one of his recent songs are first.

It actually seems as if these poems and passages have a thematic linking to the Mumbai post, as the next quote is from Rowan Williams in his wonderful book Resurrection, directly addressing the issue of gospel, judgment, and terrorists.

After that is a passage from a book I just finished -- The Road by Cormac McCarthy -- a devastating vision of a world literally, on every possible level, ended and ending. Shalom has departed from the land, and a father and son make the daily journey of survival.

I end with two sections from Scripture: Psalm 137 and Luke 6. I mentioned the Psalms in my post as Israel's witness to the church about what it means to give everything to God, even in the depths of darkness, death, and vengeance. No Psalm better illustrates the valleys of terrifying honesty than Psalm 137, and this version of Psalm 137 is my own dynamic translation from the Hebrew, which I did for a class. And following the horror and brutality of that Psalm is the startling call by God's anointed, King Jesus -- the one who in his life somehow, mysteriously, embodied the voice of the Psalter -- for God's people to be merciful to the ungodly, because that is exactly how and who God is.

Now, I will leave you with the texts.

- - - - - - -

A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear
By Derek Webb (from the album The Ringing Bell)

What would you do
If someone put a gun to your head
And asked you to tell them a lie?

What would you say
If you were pushed that way
To betray yourself to keep yourself alive?

Is life worth so much?

There’s got to be ... a love ... that’s stronger than our fear
Of everything ... being out of control
Everything ... being out of control

What would you do
If someone would tell you the truth
But only if you torture them half to death?

Tell me since when do the means justify the ends
And you build the kingdom using the devil’s tools?

Can time be so short?

There’s got to be ... a love ... that’s stronger than our fear
Of everything ... being out of control
Everything ... being out of control

There is a day that’s been inaugurated
But has not yet come
That we can proclaim
By showing that there’s a better way

- - - - - - -

By Rowan Williams (from page 13 of the Revised Edition)

The offence of being invited to see the face of Christ in the suicide of a terrorist (especially given the appalling record of the last year, from New York to Jerusalem) is enormous. Any firm moral ground beneath our feet appears to give way, and we cannot do without it. And yet to make this repellent invitation is not to deny that the face of Christ is also in the terrorist's victims (Dumitriu makes this plain), not to say that God treats human outrage as if it did not matter, not to say that we are wrong to give way to pain and fury at meaningless slaughter. It is to remind ourselves that the hopelessness and self-loathing, even the impotent anger of the jailed murderer, all that constitutes him or her a trapped and helpless victim, must speak to us, in however distorted an accent, of the Lamb of God. Our necessary justice does not repair the breach in the world created by a terrorist's massacre, it creates a fresh breach, which we are all too willing to see as unbridgeable, as final. But if God is the enemy of all human diminution, he is there too: he is there as the 'unfinishedness' of our relation to the criminal, as the muted question, the half-heard cry for some unimaginable qualitative leap into reconciliation. He is there guaranteeing that we shall not forget even the most loathed and despised of victims. He judges our justice: not condemning it or inverting it, but transcending. It is the secret that Paul learned, of a divine justice, righteousness, which acts only to restore -- what Luther so strangely called the 'passive righteousness' of God, the justice that will not act against us, that is incapable of aggression or condemnation: the righteousness that makes righteous.

- - - - - - -

The Road
By Cormac McCarthy (from pages 220 and 230)

He got up and walked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so without description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salitter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.

. . .

The days sloughed past uncounted and uncalendared. Along the interstate in the distance long lines of charred and rusting cars. The raw rims of the wheels sitting in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber, in blackened rings of wire. The incinerate corpses shrunk to the size of a child and propped on the bare springs of the seats. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts. They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold. They talked hardly at all. He coughed all the time and the boy watched him spitting blood. Slumping along. Filthy, ragged, hopeless. He'd stop and lean on the cart and the boy would go on and then stop and look back and he would raise his weeping eyes and see him standing there in the road looking back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle.

- - - - - - -

Psalm 137

By Babylon's rivers, we sat --
indeed, there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
Surrounded by the foreign trees
we hung up our harps.
Because that was when our kidnappers
asked us for hometown hymns;
our oppressors ordered hallelujahs, saying,
"Serenade us with anthems from Zion!"

How could we ever sing Yahweh's praises
in enemy territory?
If my memory fails you, Jerusalem,
may my very being dissolve.
May my speech stutter and stick
if my memory fails you,
if Jerusalem is not the pinnacle of my joy.

You must remember the Edomites, Yahweh,
how on Jerusalem's fateful day
they were the ones crying,
"Down with it! Down with it!
All the way to the ground!"

People of Babylon, already done in:
Blessed is the one who finishes what you started.
Blessed is the one who snatches your babies
and smashes them against the rocks.

- - - - - - -

Luke 6:17-20, 27-36

And Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. Looking at his disciples, he said...

"But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

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