I had actually been really looking forward to Psalms because I thought there would be some good poetry here. I’m not a big poetry reader, not because I dislike it but because I am incredibly picky about it. But I like John Donne’s poetry, and Rita Dove’s poetry, and Ramprasad Sen’s poetry, and I’ve been getting a kick out of the “I lik the bred” poetry meme. As it turns out, I’m not a big fan of King David’s, King Solomon’s, or various other poets’ poetry that wound up in Psalms.
The introduction on the audio book version also raised expectations because apparently a lot of these are lyrics, intended to be set to music, and the original text includes instructions on the music. Cool!* If nothing else, I was going to amuse myself by trying to find Christian rock bands who had put the Psalms to music in a modern fashion. But the results are pretty rough. I mean, the music is fine, less rock and more spiritual/celtic maybe, which is disappointing, but the lyrics…
Just, wow, the Pslams are whiney. Either whiney or really blatantly hypocritical. Often, they’re both whiney and hypocritical. Just oof. I was disappointed. There’s just a lot of “these people are being mean to me, you need to beat them up” along with “you hate people who do violent things but love people who obey you, so let’s all do violent things to the people who don’t obey you.”
So just, nope.
Now, keep in mind that Psalms is broken into 5 sections and 150 poems, from a variety of poets discussing a variety of issues, so while I didn’t like the vast majority of it, that isn’t to say there aren’t a few exceptions.
There are some individual verses that ring out with power and touch the heart… but there’s always another verse that pretty much delivers the opposite message.
A couple of verses that spoke to me particularly strongly given the current political situation in the US are:
But you are opposed to dishonest lawmakers
Who gang up to murder innocent victims
Psalm 101:6-7 (by King David):
I will find trustworthy people to serve as my advisors
And only an honest person will serve as an official
No one who cheats or lies
Will have a position in my royal court
So, for a moment, it was a salve to my soul, a bit like watching West Wing.
But then there’s Psalm 106:34-35:
Our Lord, they disobeyed you
By refusing to destroy the nations.
Instead they were friendly
With those foreigners and followed their customers
So there really is something for everyone in these psalms, including the pro-genocide bigots. That is not a good thing.
But if you ever want to have a bible verse to support your position on any given issue, Psalms probably has you covered. You just have to decide to ignore all the context and hypocrisy.
Summary: A book of poetry that varies between emo whining and questionable historical accounts.
Moral: If you alternate between flattering and whining to a powerful being, they might be willing to act on your behalf.
* Especially cool since I have recently run across a lot of interesting discussions of how versatile hip-hop is, and how versatile Shakespeare is in much the same vein as hip-hop, and I just had high expectations.
Next Up: Proverbs
We gotta write us up some psalms quotes for future protest marches!
I’ve always appreciated how incredibly honest the Psalms are. I think a lot of times people can feel like certain emotions are “banned” in the Church (e.g. anger, disappointment, jealousy etc.). The Psalms express the full range of (often shocking) emotions, thoughts and the inner lives of the writer. If you read the book of Kings and all the stuff that happened to David and the other writers…the stuff that happened was shocking! It was outrageous, it was often horrible. So I think it’s comforting to know that these writers were human, fully and outrageously human. They sure as heck weren’t saints.
One of the things I do really appreciate about actually reading the Bible (which admittedly I haven’t been recently) is how even the saints aren’t “saints” in that way. The saints are devoted to their god, and very much have their god’s attention in turn, but they are still fully human with all the foibles and biases that come with that.