Many days in the newsroom I had the feeling of same-old, same-old. I’d seen it all before. Another election, just different names and tallies. Another car crash or house fire. A store opening or a restaurant closing. Graduations or obituaries. It’s a long list. And then something refreshing would come along, something that prompted the exclamation, “I’ve never seen that before!” Contrary to the doom-and-gloom image of the business, many of us at the newspaper loved having something uplifting to present.
These days, though, it’s more likely to be along the lines of this couldn’t be happening, could it?
The American presidential campaign is just the most obvious. The Woodpecker Reports appearing at the Red Barn are supposed to be a reminder of the underlying currents we thought would be shaping this election season – the history and power-brokers moving behind the scenes, especially. Things we’d seen before, round after round, including the same players or their disciples. Woodpecker can hammer away in the infected trees, as he’s been, but when the forest catches fire, he’ll take flight. I know this: things are spinning too fast to keep up. And that’s before we get to the climate instability that’s more glibly called global warming.
I’m still aghast at the reports of Sen. David Perdue’s “joking” when he encouraged participants at a religious conference to pray that President Obama’s “days be few,” a reference to Psalm 109. The audience apparently picked up on the calamities to be inflicted not just on the transgressor but on his spouse and children, too – evil thoughts, without question. In the text, however, King David is pouring out his soul in response to political persecution, a situation the Georgia Republican blithely ignores. King David’s lines certainly fit as a cry for help from Obama: “Wicked and deceiving words are being said about me, false accusations are being cast in my teeth,” as verse 2 reads in the New Jerusalem translation. “In return for my friendship they denounce me. … They repay my kindness with evil, and friendship with evil” (verses 4-5) match the good intentions Obama had for reasoning with a Republican Congress. As for the evil man oppressing the king, “He had no thought of being loyal, but hounded the poor and needy and the broken hearted to their death. He had a taste for cursing; let it recoil on him!” (verses 16-17).
Taken in its fullness, the Psalm – perhaps even the Holy One – could point to Perdue and laugh, “The joke’s on you.”
Except that this is serious, deadly serious. Prayer is never a joke, not for the faithful. And the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:7) warns: “You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.” (The New Jerusalem here gives quite a different insight than the more traditional take of “taking the Lord’s name in vain,” usually seen as colloquial cursing or words not uttered in polite company.)
In a broader context, we can remember that King David could be both passionate and brash, qualities that got him in deep doo-doo more than once, and thanks to Abigail, he even had to recant one of the curses he was about to impose on her husband and all the males in her extended household (I Samuel 25).
While we’re at it, we can also leap ahead to Jesus commanding his followers, “Love your enemies,” and to look for the plank in their own eyes when faulting the splinter in another’s.
Nowhere do I accept an argument that it can be OK to pray for evil.
Only hours later came the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the worst mass slaying by a solitary gunman in the nation’s history.
As I read a few headlines quoting people who were suggesting the sinfulness of the lifestyle was the reason for the tragedy, I once again found myself aghast. (When I reread the reports more carefully, this was not their argument; rather it turned against Islam and its followers. Still, I have no doubt the original line of anti-LGBT argument is circulating through many circles.)
What angered me in my reaction was the notion we see all too often of blaming the victims. If their lifestyle were to blame, how then do we align that with shootings in churches, schools, even movie theaters, as we’re seeing? You’re going to blame Amish children or their parents? Come on, now! Or is something else the cause? At the moment, the United States has more guns per capita than at any previous time in its history; firearms were relatively scarce, even on the frontier, as you’ll discover reading wills from the period.
Let me suggest another calculus:
The more guns, the more murders. Period.
I just wish that mass shootings weren’t becoming same-old, same-old news in America, with only the numbers and frequency rising. Or that the anger weren’t fueling hatred.
Maybe I need to head out to the garden to see what’s new there. Even picking weeds might be uplifting.