Advent Openings to Psalms of Revenge

Last night I read Psalm 79–one of the psalms of the day, and one of the psalms that call for God’s wrath upon the “heathen” (KJV) who’ve defiled the temple and killed many people of the covenant.

In my first reading of the psalm, I couldn’t help but think about how this song reads to a member of the Jewish settler movement–those who don’t want to see East Jerusalem as the capitol of a new Palestinian state alongside Israel, with its capitol in West Jerusalem.  I thought of how the Jewish settler movement has no possible place for Palestinians, and incrementally takes “back” what land is left to them–through force and through government permitting.  Surely Psalm 79 speaks to them directly as a sanction for their actions?

How hard it is to work with these psalms across the generations, in varied contexts, Jewish and Christian and “other”!

And then I thought of a spot in my life earlier that day when I felt the hotrush heat of anger arise in me with the kind of fury announced in that psalm.

I was in the admitting room at the local hospital, waiting to be called for a mammogram.  And the television was on a new station–was it an NBC affiliate?  I normally listen to NPR and read the New York Times and The Economist for news, so I was sharply dismayed by what struck me as an irresponsible tone in the reporting.  The climate change gathering in Copenhagen was announced, and the news report focused in a mocking voice on how costly the travel to the conference would be in emissions.  Then there was an interview with someone who said we need to pay attention to what Islam is really all about–terrorist plots and movements, in this speaker’s eyes, with some specific recent examples.  There was no attempt to set those movements in context, no attempt to present Islam in its more ordinary faces–just an intensely inflammatory rhetoric that portrayed the Obama administration as in denial and providing haven for this grave danger.

I was so angry at the way the news events were portrayed–with mockery, derision, a celebration of ignorance and narrowed vision–that I found myself somewhat abrupt and rude to the woman doing my mammogram.  I wanted to complain to the hospital about having that news channel on.  I wanted to march somewhere, do something.  I didn’t say anything directly to the woman working with me–just caught myself being absent from the procedure, carried by emotions that I don’t typically feel going about my day.

And I truly can’t fathom why anyone would want to foster a kind of hate that reduces all Muslims to terrorists–or for that matter, all Jews to dirty vermin, or all Americans to capitalist God-mocking pigs.  What was the news station hoping to accomplish?  An emotional energy of identification that would keep viewers coming back to be fed?  A hope to fan the flames of discontent with the government in an uninformed way?  Why would a news corporation want to do that–short of seeking viewers and ad revenue?

I glimpse some of the answers (some of them veering towards conspiracy theories about corporate media), but today I am feeling clueless.  I hope that an Advent opening in me will work beyond an ability to identify with the anger at injustice that fuels psalms asking God for revenge, and closer to seeing where crass fanning of xenophobia and hate comes from.

I am open to the insights of others in this regard–whether they are born of the peaceful expectant stillness or the apocalyptic energy of Advent.

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