Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Psalm 23

Easter 4 - Year A

Psalm 23

I have recently finished a new book about Jimmy Creech's journey from pastor to minister with gay and lesbian people and eventual defrocking by the United Methodist Church. It is extremely well written. So much so that it brought back those days with a touch of post traumatic stress disorder and a review of what Rev. Amy DeLong is going through with her coming church trial [go to]. I could only read it in small bits.

Yes, I highly recommend it to you: Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor's Calling to Defy the Church's Persecution of Lesbians and Gays.

This is all prelude to this brief moment from the book that brings additional light to the iconic 23rd Psalm:
“Good morning, Jimmy, this is Bill Finlator. How are you?” Bill was calling from Raleigh early on Wednesday morning, March 11. Chris and I were in Omaha, packed and about to leave for Kearney [site of Jimmy's first trial]. The pretrial meeting was to begin at noon. Chris had answered the phone, chatted briefly with Bill, and then handed the phone to me. My mind was on the trial, and I was anxious. Bill’s familiar and cheerful voice relaxed me immediately.

“I’m okay,” I replied. “Nervous, but also calm in a strange way.”

Bill asked, “Did Mahan ever tell you his story about what he said when he was asked if had a particular Bible verse that comforted him during the controversy at Pullen?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.

“Well, Mahan says he thought for a moment, then answered, ‘Well, yes, the twenty-third psalm. You know, the Lord is my shepherd, so . . . what the hell!’” Bill chuckled, and I laughed with him.

It was a welcome gift of humor and wisdom on the eve of an ominious three-day ordeal. Bill’s story helped to put my part in the trial into perspective. I knew that the trial, and the bigotry within The United Methodist Church and our society that had led to it, were much bigger and more important than I was. Whatever might happen to me was much less important than what the church decided. I wasn't really the one on trial. The United Methodist Church was.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” Bill said. “You’ve done the right thing, no matter how all this turns out.”

May you move this psalm back into a real comfort to you and not just fine old words.

Finish the sentence for yourself:

The Lord is my shepherd, so . . . ________________________.

1 comment:

  1. NRSV typesets it as

    "The LORD is my shepherd" which is the convention for naming that which cannot/should not be named (YHWH, vowelized into Yahweh). This knowledge changes things. Some questions are begged/reflections triggered as a result of this knowledge:

    1. As soon as we make it Lord instead of LORD (or YHWH or G*D - signifiers for something for which we petty mortals have little referent of but a smidge of what is signified) we're in trouble.

    Whose Lord? My Lord? Yours?

    How would you feel about "My Lord is Your shepherd" or "Your Lord is My shepherd?"

    Is Lord God like Lord Beckett or Lord Voldemort or Lord Scooter Walker or Lord Only Knows? Lord Jesus CEO? Lord Medicare? Lord Pension? Lord Universal Health Care? Lord Self-reliance? Lord Protest? Lord Union? Lord Unionbuster? Lord Debt? Lord Default? Lord Law? Lord Grace? Lord Letter? Lord Spirit?

    And I am decidedly NOT arguing for a radical relativity here, a sense that everyone is right from their side, entitled to their own perspective even when that entitlement is coupled with a significant power differential (sheep vis a vis shepherd/predator).

    2. Are we like sheep? Really? If so, we live among wolves and the wolves seem to be able to thin the flock at will. In fact, the shepherds are fleecing the sheep. But wait... isn't that their job? Who needs a fleecing shepherd? Better to pull the wool over the predators' eyes. Baaaahhhhhhh.

    3. So a conclusion: there is no comfort in a Lord by any name. "The Lord is my shepherd, so what?" Or maybe even "I have a shepherd? Get me outta here."

    4. The un-named/un-nameable LORD/YHWH/G*D/Universe is everything we DON'T know, don't understand, it's the barely glimpsed recognition that we have minuscule referent for but a smidge of what is signified... now there might be something worthy of awe and comfort.

    5. So another conclusion, or psalm 23 re-worded:

    "The sum-total of my ignorance,
    the stunning mass of my unknowing,
    the mind-blowing realization that I don't know what I do not know,
    I don't have a clue what I don't know because it is outside my knowing,
    that unknowing points to a realm
    of incredible possibility and understanding yet to be.
    All that is there in that unknown and unknowable,
    that unfathomed and unfathomable realm,
    that might just make a good shepherd... so...
    if that's the case,
    how could I possibly want for more?
    There is enough in that realm of unknown
    to overflow my cup a thousand thousand years unceasing."

    A parallel comes to mind from Lao Tzu, also in the Wisdom Tradition:

    The way that can be spoken of
    Is not the constant way;
    The name that can be named
    Is not the constant name.
    The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth;
    The named was the mother of the myriad creatures.
    Hence always rid yourself of desires in order to observe its secrets;
    But always allow yourself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations.
    These two are the same
    But diverge in name as they issue forth.
    Being the same they are called mysteries,
    Mystery upon mystery --
    The gateway of the manifold secrets.



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