A few years ago I was sitting in a room with several people I love very dearly. These are people I admire, people who were responsible (in part, at least) for my religious and spiritual upbringing. In an unfortunate, but all-too-common, moment the conversation shifted to politics and suddenly I found myself a minority of one in a room full of people I care very much about.
What made me a minority of one?
Well, a few years earlier, we had all voted for the exact same person for a prestigious office. We had varied, but similar reasons, and for all of us, faith played a pivotal role in the decision as to who we would cast our vote for.
However, as time marched on, I became disenchanted. It seemed that day after day I was being forced to try to bend my faith to the will of a politician rather than the politician bending his will to reflect faith.
The disenchantment lead me to become a very vocal critic of this person… and that brings us to that moment, sitting in a room with people I love, confessing that I regretted voting for this politician.
“And you call yourself a Christian?” came the snide comment from a man who’s respect and approval I craved.
This hit particularly close to home, because since I had cast that vote I had answered God’s call to enter the ministry. I had taken a leap of faith and moved to a strange city on the other side of the country to attend seminary. I had returned to my native West Virginia, ready to take on the lengthy and stressful ordination process in the United Methodist Church. I had walked away from what was familiar and comfortable and safe. I had taken on significant debt and was walking straight into the unknown.
All of this was because of my faith… but now, one of the people most responsible for helping me nurture that faith was questioning whether or not I was even a Christian because of politics.
I don’t know why that insinuation that I was being a bad Christian crushed me like it did… but it did.
I went home seething with anger, weeping from grief, and grumbling out loud alone in my car.
Here I am, all these years later, still not sure why that attack on my faith hurt so badly. That is, I was unsure until today, when I read the words of Psalmist, lamenting his persecution at the hands of his enemies and begging God to crush those who stood opposed to him.
I’m not going to lie, I love the Psalms because of David’s angry prayers. The remind me that I’m allowed to be angry, to feel sorry for myself, to be human. And when we can fully acknowledge how we feel and what we’re thinking, we can get serious about asking God for help.
But in the midst of Psalm 55’s typical lament about enemies bearing down on the author a few verses, feeling almost out of context, suddenly jumped out at me:
12 It’s not an enemy that is insulting me—
I could handle that.
It’s not someone who hates me
who is exalted over me—
I could hide from them.
13 No. It’s you, my equal,
my close companion, my good friend!
14 It was so pleasant when
together we entered God’s house with the crowd.
In the middle of a good cry about enemies pressing down on him, David suddenly laments what hurts most is that his friend has turned on him and is now saying the same things the enemy says.
When the enemy says it, it’s bearable… but from a friend? From a loved one?
It is true, that some of my best memories were when this man I loved and I “entered God’s house with the crowd.”
No wonder it hurt so much when I felt like he was slamming the doors to God’s house in my face, telling me I was now excluded from the faith.
When some random person challenges my faith or insinuates that I’m less of a disciple because of a political position or opinion, I can shrug it off. What do they really know about me, anyway?
But when it came from someone I loved, it hurt. Deeply.
So, now that I finally understand why that moment has stayed with me for so long, what does this Psalm teach me?
This is where I take us back to why I love the Psalms: David’s angry prayers.
My reaction that day was not graceful. My faith had been called into question by someone who should have known just how deep it ran and how much faith has influenced every aspect of my life. He had come at me with an angry question and I lashed out with my own anger.
Maybe that anger had been better reserved, not for a living room argument, but for a prayer–for a poem written to God. Maybe, instead of lashing out at a human I should have locked myself away in a closet and told God how angry I was by that betrayal. I should have lamented the hurt, the wound, the frustration to the Divine, rather than berating the human.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about the differences we have, or address the moments when someone hurts us. If anything, we need to be a society that is more willing to talk about our feelings rather than bottling them up and letting them out only as anger.
However, there is a lot to be said for talking to God first–processing the hurt and the anger in the presence of the Peacemaker.
David’s angry prayers have lasted the centuries and still serve, for many of us, as a vent. We read them and we feel the steam that has been building up in our heads from our boiling blood begin to seep out in a harmless way.
Imagine how much different our relationships would look if we could learn to pray like that about the things in our lives?