Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 89:19-29) transports me to one of the more eclectic album collections you’ll ever find, and I only have to walk downstairs in my house to find it. When Kim and I tied the knot, the joining of our respective musical tastes became one of the more interesting features of married life. Imagine wedding Led Zep, Deep Purple, and KISS to Barry Manilow, the Carpenters, and Neil Diamond. Cream, The Who, and Pink Floyd found themselves sleeping with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. The Stones, Beatles, and Hendrix were on a honeymoon with Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland. and Stephen Sondheim. We found some common ground in Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, and Motown. And old hymns. We loved harmonizing on the old Baptist Hymnal standards – especially those penned by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and Fanny Crosby. With all due respect to Barry, they were the ones who wrote the songs that made the whole world sing.
The people of Israel in Jesus’ day had their own set of soundtracks running through their heads. They collected their songs in a hymnal that we continue to use today, the book of Psalms. It’s a fairly eclectic collection, with easy listening odes to the beauty of nature, symphonic hymns of praise, edgy cries for help, bluesy confessions, and imperial anthems beating the drum for war and anointing the conquering hero. Today’s Psalm falls into this latter category. When I think about Jesus and his motley crew of followers, I wonder if they each had their own favorite genre, their own set of Psalms running through their heads. Did the fishermen enjoy humming and whistling those celebrations of God’s creation? Did the tax collector sing the bluesy lamentations of grief and penitence? Did Jesus gravitate toward those edgy pleas for help? And then there’s Judas. Today’s Psalm helps me understand the betrayer a bit more. I imagine Brother Iscariot and his Band of Zealots meeting together often in an underground club complete with mosh pit, shouting out the lyrics to this and other conquest Psalms. The songs filled their minds and hearts with hope for God to anoint the hero they longed for, pouring sacred oil on the fires of revolution as the new general would ride in like a well-oiled machine, sustained by the hand of God, striking the Roman adversaries and crushing Caesar to bits. The horn of power would once again be exalted, and the Promised Land would be restored to its glory days. Judas and the Zealots were not just a mercenary band of terrorists and political pretenders to the throne; they were Psalm singers. They were shaped by the hopes and dreams of music penned a thousand years before their time, but whose lyrics were spot on when it came to their experience of oppression and abuse at the hands of hated enemies.
If the old maxim is true, that we get our theology from our music, it is easy to understand how Judas and the Zealots could have had some pretty clear expectations of what Jesus was supposed to do. Given that same maxim, I wonder how my own theology and Kim’s theology has been shaped, not only from the hymnal’s lyrics: love’s redeeming work is done – my richest gain I count but loss – and rescue the perishing, but from the other soundtracks rolling through our heads – who are you? – I am, I said – I went down to the crossroads just to flag a ride – looks like we made it – many times I wonder how much there is to know – there’s a wonder in most everything I see. It’s quite a repertoire, filled with anthems of wonder and protest and beauty and challenge. Somehow, wonder of wonders, twenty-six years later, we’re still singing and playing and harmonizing. Whenever I find myself recoiling a bit at the violent imprecatory Psalms, I remember a teenage boy singing and shouting along with Roger Daltrey and Paul Stanley and Robert Plant and Ian Gillan and Jimi Hendrix and Roger Waters. If I could listen to these guys and still find myself wooing a woman in a church peacemaker group, I figure I can listen to the soundtrack of Judas and the Zealots and find a place for it in my collection as well.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.