This morning my devotional was Psalm 28 and Genesis 39:1-23. As I read Psalm 28 I thought about how the words of this Psalm could be used by those who are filled with hate and white nationalist pride, “The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them for ever.” Those who talk about white heritage and see themselves as special in the eyes of God because of their skin tone could use these words to justify their views. These same words could also be taken up by those who denounce hate, who call upon God’s long history of bringing justice for the poor and marginalized as the true heritage of God. This is one of the problems of the bible, we can read it and have it confirm our views, rather than wrestling with the text.
For me the wrestling with Psalm 28 comes in the stanza above the one I cited earlier. This stanza is all about how God will punish the wicked and give them their due reward. They will be broken down and repaid for their evil actions. I am much more comfortable with the image of a gracious and forgiving God, so this sentiment from the psalm makes me uncomfortable. Then I think about the men being called out by their employers, families, and universities for terrorizing Charlottesville this week and I begin to see the justice in the consequences. Yet it still makes me uncomfortable. What if the wrong person gets identified? Is harassing people on the internet the right way to go about this? And I realize my white privilege and relative safety allow me to be uncomfortable in the same sheltered way I’m uncomfortable when another black man is killed by the police. I do not need the God of justice and punishment in the same way that many of the people of this country need God to bring about radical change. This passage is challenging me to stand in solidarity with my black and brown brothers and sisters and call out for radical justice and change to the systems that keep me privileged. I continue to wrestle with the bible and be changed by the God I find among its pages.
As if this were not enough spiritual wrestling for the morning, the scripture from Genesis reminded me even more about the cultural victimization of people, especially of black men. In the story Joseph is a servant and the master’s wife tries to seduce him. He rebuffs her and she lies, getting him thrown in jail for trying to sexually assault her. I think about Emmet Till, whose accuser finally admitted 62 years later that she lied about him touching her, a lie which led her husband to murder the 14 year old boy. I think about the post civil war myth of violent black men assaulting white women and the way that tv, movies, and other staples of our culture have perpetuated that imagery. I think about the ways I have absorbed this fear, meaning that on a train in Atlanta last year in a car alone with two black men I felt suddenly, irrationally afraid.
This is my sinfulness. This is my place of wrestling. This is where I stand troubled and trembling before the cross of Jesus.
I serve a community of faith and do the work of living and engaging in my neighborhood so that I can create places for all of us to wrestle with our own complacency and spiritual challenges. We cannot ignore God at work in each of us and we cannot continue to stay silent in the face of injustice and hate.