Archive for January, 2010

Psalm 151 by Mae Jackson

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Thanks poet-writer Mae Jackson for submitting your poem to the blog as an example of what a modern psalm of lament might sound like.

I wonder who’s gonna be so bold as to
walk up to God and say
“ Brother man,
What’s up with this?”

Who’s gonna call God to the floor
check his agenda for disaster
censor his freedom of speech…
take away his position the way they did Amiri Baraka
out loud
“who blew up america?”

the last I heard
270,000 people of color were
wiped out
just like that

without a word of warning
the ocean opened up its mouth
until it had reached it natural capacity for mass consumption and destruction
sucking out the life of
my sisters
my brothers

our children
can not breath
they can not live
they will not live

Hey you
(I say to God)
What you got against people of color?
What you got against the poor?
What you got against working class folks?

And he replied

who’s gonna accuse God of murder
throw him in jail
like they did mumia?

Hey you
I said to God
sitting high and looking low
where were you when
white america
dummied down demoracy
and threw the last two elections?

God replied
“you talking to me?”
as if he had never
the many prayers I’d uttered for

I’m talking to you -
God Almighty
(I might add)
I don’t like your attitude

where were you God
when the children of South Asia cried out for their mothers and fathers
to protect them from your wrath
their bodies sucked into the nothingness
did they not cry out loud enough for you to hear them?

I speak to God
requesting his presence
“”man up God”, I say
I demand an audience of one with you

A no show
One more time again

…a probability
you were too busy
with George Bush on his Texas ranch
social security &
health care
to notice
the suffering
of the world’s people

a possibility you were
puff daddy’s
Xmas party
for the rich and famous
preoccupied (I suppose)
purchasing diamond watches & rings
costing $100,000 and more…
from men
who went into the bowls of South Africa
stealing everything they now sell
to merchants of death
who go by the name of

AUGUST 28,2005 Hurricane Katrina

Where yawl at”
I ask
“We in the water”
that’s what she said
and where is God?
I ask humbly
She drowned before she could answer me

“Well now, Lawdy, Lawdy Miss Claudie you sure…
I ain’t no singer but I can change the lyrics
“Well now, Lawdy, Lawdy Miss Claudie looks like God has abandoned you
what you gonna do now that you God is gone?

I loved him
I loved him so much
I loved him everyday of my life
I loved him when the rent was due
When the eviction notice was tacked on my door
I loved him when I had no food in my refrigerator
I loved him in the midnight hour
I loved him when the evil wind blew no good

I cried out to him
crawling on my knees
trying to get out of the mess I was in
“help me!”

He did not come then

Later much later
He showed up with three white men
and took Emmett Till to the Tallahatchie River
He showed up in jail and beat Fannie Lou Hammer
He showed up at the assassinations of Malcolm X
And Dr. King
He may not come when you call him
but he’s always on time..
for those who rule the world

like sam cook
“I was born by the river in a little tent…”
I know,
I know
you didn’t see me
but that’s no excuse for not hearing me
when I was floating on a mattress in my kitchen
I reached out to you
“take my hand, precious Lord, take my hand”…

my ole man
reached out to save me
he had to let me go to take the hand of our child…
when I was in the superdome
and the rain was pouring down
“I just want you close…
you and me together through the days and nights”
Alicia Keys sing
“everything is gonna be alright”
nothing was
nothing is

and today
from somewhere I found the strength
to rise again
from the muddy waters of new orleans and Mississippi

they thought I was dead
in the eulogy they wrote ( and sent out all over the world)
they called me
a refugee
they said I was black,
uneducated with the propensity towards criminal intent
I would not be missed…

I came back…
I found ancestors at the bottom of the sea that resuscitated me
and now I am born again
from their love
you have reasons to worry
“there is no easy way to learn how to fly”
today I rise

Dear God, I Hate You. Love RJW

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

I can’t bear to watch the news these days.

GOP win in Massachusetts. (There goes health care reform).

Massive aftershock in Haiti.

Eight people in Virginia killed in a domestic dispute.

I know some of you will be appalled at my saying this: But I loathe much of what passes itself off as praise music these days. I’m not much in the mood for one of those little happy, sunshine ditties. God is good, yes. God is great, yes. Dance to the Lord. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


Did you know that the largest single category of psalms is Psalms of Lament  (e.g., Psalm 142)?  Psalms of Disorientation. Psalms of Hurt and Hisappointment. Psalms of Grief and Outpouring of one’s pain. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggeman, in an article entitled “The Costly Loss of Lament,” argues that by bypassing lament for praise we have become like “yes people” surrounding the one in charge, always speaking as we think we should so that we can stay close to power.  This loss, leads to a faith that is unable to deal with the real, messy, paradoxical reality of life.

Of course, behind every lament is hidden praise. I rail at you God because I believed in your goodness.  I scream in pain because in hope that you’re listening.  I threaten to walk away trusting that you will come after me.

Admit it: The real point of a psalm like Psalm 42 doesn’t sing well in a praise chorus. So, Psalm 42 isn’t a psalm that gets much song time in our churches.  Listen to some of it: “My tears have been my food day and night” “why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning?”

I’m as guilty as the rest of leading the congregation in chants of “God IS good.” But looking around, sometimes God is so good to a few of us that God seems uncaring and cruel to the rest of us …

Don’t let me scare off some of my faithful readers with my unorthodox ramblings. (Experience has taught me that God can take criticism and honest inquiry; it’s humans who has no stomach for truth telling.)

I’ll just reach for one of those old long meter hymns folks usedta sing in the old church.  Talk about wrangling with the Lord. You gotta appreciate the honest public debate and dialogue with God we see evidenced in some of the music produced back in the day. “Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee.” “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah.”  “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.

Ha-i-ti, Ha-i-ti

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

I was at my desk writing when I heard the news about the earthquake in Haiti on yesterday. I dashed to the television and could barely endure the photos streaming in on CNN of the carnage on an island already dirt poor and left abandoned decades ago by the superpowers. With the psalmist I thought to myself: “If we forget thee O Haiti, may our right hands be cut off.  May our tongues cleave to the roof our mouths if we do not place Haiti above our highest joy.”

Special thanks to womanist colleague Pamela Lightsey, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs at Garrett Seminary in Evanston, Illinois for granting me permission to pray her prayer here on the blog today. She prayed the prayers right out of me.

A Prayer for Haiti 

O God, we have been stunned once again by an event which seems so unnatural and yet is called “natural disaster.”

We have no words to answer the “why” which we feel, no wisdom to explain away the unexplainable areas of life.

Keep us from attributing this event as a heavenly reprimand, or from a certain haughtiness that tempts the distant soul. Give us to be compassionate and gentle, servants to those in need.

Remind us of your gracious love in the midst of sorrow, and your ability to work miracles when hope is faint.

We pray for those who suffer in Haiti even now and for those who await rescue. For relatives, for the children, for mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts and cousins. For the survivors who question what more they might have done. And for those who must keep on keeping on, in spite of.  For the leaders, for those who bring aid and those who await news. Strengthen and encourage them we pray.

Now unto you, O God, we take the burdens of this hour and place them in your divine care. For all you do and are doing, seen and unseen, we give thee thanks Eternal God of All Creation. Amen.