Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetic Passage (Psalm 3) transports me to the crazy changing world of the 1960s, when youth started questioning authority, family stability was threatened, and liberation movements of all stripes emerged for people who didn’t fit in with the mainstream mores and folkways demanded by society. I’m not dealing here with Stonewall or women’s lib or Vietnam protests; I’m talking about the beginning of the longest running Christmas tv special that is now in its 46th year of airing – Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. What a product of its times, as the Rankin/Bass writers took the simple children’s song and created a full-length narrative of misfits and monsters and runaway rebellious youth. Hermey the Elf Dentist articulates the theme of the era when he says to Rudolph, Hey, what do you say we both be independent together, huh?
Hermey in particular came to mind when I read today’s passage, revealing a besieged King David penning a song in the midst of a similar crazy changing world, an era of family breakdown and challenge to authority. He is fleeing, after all, from his own estranged son, Absalom, who has led a revolt against the throne. David imagines God shielding him from the impending violence, and is able to sleep at night with that assurance. He goes further, singing of God “breaking the teeth” of the monstrous enemies who surround him. Now we could take that poetic allusion and form a picture of a brawling God with brass knuckles pounding away at the hated enemies. Or we could understand the allusion from the viewpoint of the self-defense concept of “defanging” one’s attacker. Perhaps God is defanging the snake, as the martial artists like to say. For me, an even better image comes from the Rudolph story, when Hermey the Dentist Elf literally defangs the Abominable Monster, taking away Bumble’s fear factor and enabling their relationship to be transformed into love and friendship. If only such a defanging could have happened in the David and Absalom story, if only the long-haired rebellious son could have lost his teeth instead of losing his life. David and Absalom’s tragic story teaches us that we might just be related to those who are most revolting to us. The line between foe and family is blurred. And David reveals that relationship is deeper than revolt, in the manner in which he mourns the death of his attacker. O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son! His grief is troubling to his military general Joab, the symbol of authority and hierarchy and law and order. Joab chastises David for his display of grief, saying, Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Joab is deeply threatened by the idea of love for enemies. It defies all logic of his 1950s world view.
We are living in another one of those crazy eras of rapid world change and revolt, when mainstream mores and folkways are under siege and many people feel surrounded by an increasing mob of monsters invading their idyllic land and threatening their sources of authority. The Psalmist David teaches us that we need not fear. We can pray for God to defang the monsters that haunt our sleep. We can see beyond the revolting nature of these attackers and remember that we are indeed related. We are family. This is the same message of Hermey, aka Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. For me, it is the central hermeneutic (means of interpretation) of scripture and the Way of the misfit Messiah Jesus – reading all of Holy writ through the lens of a perfect love that drives out fear, that transforms enemy into friend. May I find a Bumbles to put the star on my tree this year.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.