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From Pastor Kenny's Desk

September 30, 2018

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors taunted us to sing our songs,

Our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

But how could we sing a song of YHWH in a foreign land?


If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill!

May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I ever forget you,

If I ever stop considering Jerusalem my greatest joy.


Remember, YHWH, what the children of Edom did the day Jerusalem fell,

when they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down to its foundations!”

Brood of Babylon, doomed to destruction, a blessing on those

Who will repay you for the evil you have done to us!

A blessing on those who will seize your infants and dash them against the rock!

~ Psalm 137


I sang in the school choir from an early age, and one of the first songs I remember singing was a round in a minor key. “By the waters, the waters of Babylon. We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion.” Although I learned that these words came from Psalm 137, it wasn’t until many years later that I understood the context: People of Judah being taken into exile, into the land of their oppressors.


But how could we sing a song of YHWH in a foreign land? the psalmist cries out. We can imagine the pain and the anguish of these words, of losing one’s home, seeing the great city destroyed and being forced to relocate. The ending verses of this psalm …  which is rarely if ever read in worship … speak to the anger of the injustice visited upon the Hebrew people as they lost everything.

However, now as I sing this song or read this psalm, I struggle because, as an adult, I understand that I live in Babylon … and so do you. I live in a land where people are pulled over by police and sometimes killed because of the color of their skin. And I think of Daniel. I live in a land in which people are separated from their families and children caged. And I think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, taken from their families to serve the king of Babylon. I live in a land where people are deemed a threat and called terrorists because of the way they worship, the way they dress, and their accent. And I think of the Hebrew people in exile. I live in Babylon. What if those last verses were directed at me? Imagine if the ending verse of this psalm read, Happy shall they be who take your little ones and lock them in cages!


How do I read the psalms or sing the songs, when I live in the land of the oppressor? As a white Christian gay man, I do not have to worry about being asked about my citizenship. I do not have the same fear when police pull me over in my car. I do not worry about my child being taken from me. I do not worry about being harassed on my way to worship. I have privilege. Privilege given to me by my race and gender. Privilege given as part of an oppressive system that seeks to marginalize by use of power, force and control. And when I ignore it, I become part of the system of oppression. 


Looking at and experiencing the intentional violence and systems of oppression today I pray for peace in a new way. I pray for peace as part of the oppression … that I will do my part to recognize my privilege in dismantling racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, sexism and other forms of systemic violence. I pray that the strength of Daniel would be with me to speak out against police violence and the new Jim Crow of the prison industrial complex. I pray for the courage of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to speak out against children being taken from their parents, for children to be reunited with their families, and to work toward a comprehensive immigration policy that is desperately needed. I pray that the psalms of the Hebrew people in exile would break open my heart for my Muslim and Jewish neighbors, who continue to face hatred and violence for the way they worship.


Today’s updated version of Psalm 137 might read:


By the Rio Grande,

There we sat down and there we wept,

For we remembered our home.

Destroyed by gangs and the never-ending war on drugs,

Destroyed by the guns from the School of the Americas,

Destroyed by climate change and corporations led by greed.


By the Flint River,

There we sat down and there we wept,

For we remembered a bustling community.

Destroyed by decades of economic injustice,

Destroyed by lead poisoning in our water,

Destroyed by broken promises and forgotten vows.


By the immigration office,

There we sat down and there we wept,

For we came here to be free.

Our hopes destroyed because of the country we are from,

Our dreams denied because of the way we worship.

Our lives shattered because we have no place to go.


I pray we will continue to pray and take action in our prayers for peace in our world … that all of us who have white privilege would recognize the systems of violence around us, how we benefit, even indirectly, and that we would work for justice. For we are now … Babylon.

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