Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 78:56-72) transports me to the headline copy editor’s desk at any newsroom across the country, where apparently there is a dire shortage of thesauruses. In the absence of such a resource, and in the absence of imaginative word-smithing, there is the temptation to overuse certain words. I’ve noticed that the word of the season now is testy. It’s used to describe people who are irritable, tetchy, cranky, ornery, cantankerous, irascible, bad-tempered, grumpy, grouchy, crotchety, petulant, crabby, crusty, curmudgeonly, ill-tempered, ill-humored, peevish, cross, fractious, pettish, prickly, short-fused, snappish, snippy. There is certainly no shortage of people fitting these descriptions in the news today. But the news writers must not like any of these other adjectives. They like testy. So we read in headline after headline that Herman Cain got testy with a group of reporters questioning him about sexual harrassment charges. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and President Obama got testy with each other on an airport tarmac. Mitt Romney got testy with Fox News reporter Bret Baier. Newt Gingrich got testy with CNN’s John King. Donald Trump got testy with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Rick Santorum got testy with a group of college students. Ron Paul got testy and walked out on CNN reporter Gloria Borger (but it’s hard to say how you’d tell if Ron Paul got testy, given his normal curmudgeonly demeanor).
Were there a headline to today’s Psalm passage, it well might be God Gets Testy. The covenant people have put God to the test, rebelling and building high places for idol worship. They have been disloyal and faithless, ignoring the commandments, as unreliable as a faulty bow. At some point they cross a line and push God over the edge. God gets snappish and snaps. We see the bad-tempered and ill-humored God rejecting Israel completely, abandoning the tabernacle they had built in Shiloh, sending the ark of the covenant with all its power into the hands of the enemies. Victimized by the fury of God, there are no wedding songs for the young women to sing, and no priests left to officiate even if there were any weddings. No miraculous turning of water into wine here. And then, the irascible God wakes up as if from a drunken stupor and really lowers the boom, beating back enemies and establishing a new center of power in the land of Judah, with boy wonder David chosen to take the helm.
From the line of that king would eventually come a new king preaching the virtues of love and grace and peace and a decentralized presence of God. When I look at the thesaurus list of words for testy, one word that jumps out at me is cross. This new king of the Jews came and turned water into wine and cleansed the temple and taught us to love one another, all on his way to take on all the testiness of humanity, on the cross. I’m not sure how the word cross came to mean angry, annoyed, irate, irritated, vexed, irked, piqued, put out, displeased, irritable, short-tempered, bad-tempered, snappish, snappy, crotchety, grouchy, grumpy, fractious, testy, crabby, cranky, mad, hot under the collar, peeved, riled, on the warpath, up in arms, steamed up, sore, bent out of shape. Perhaps one of the functions of the cross of Jesus is to help bend testy people back into the shape of grace, through the power of transforming love.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.