grievance and the Psalms

Grievance is a powerful word. When I say it there is a visceral sense of anger, pain, even resentment. It is not as satisfying as justice or liberation but it carries with it a strong sense of righteousness. If I have a grievance with you, with society, even with God, I make my case, I lay before the wrong-doer my cry of being hurt, wronged, oppressed, silenced, betrayed, or unfairly treated. This perspective is as old as Adam and Eve, as mysterious and frustrating as Job and as problematic in its effect as Jesus on the cross. Do faith-filled people lean on the humble and contrite Saul-Paul persona, the emotionally volatile Peter or the worried and distracted Martha, for their guidance in matters of fairness or justice?

I lean on the Psalms, sometimes attributed to David or someone who wrote in his name. Using the David narrative we hear someone who was diminished, scoffed at, underestimated, who surpassed all expectations to become a mighty ruler. Wisdom, strength and justice characterized his early years. But soon after the righteousness gave way to self-righteousness, and there came a steady stream of “reaping what he sowed.” The loss of relationship with kin, the murder, and rape. From that place David sought way back to right-relationship. The Psalms are the cathartic and honest move from stasis to arrogance, from arrogance to sin, from sin to brokenness, from brokenness to confession, from confession to new life, from new life to grace-filled service. And back to stasis…

My own story is very different from David, I was the oldest, not the rump of the litter. I was too loud to be passed over. Yet I grew up certain that my inner-oddness would lead to isolation, failure and dependence. I had no grievance, other than an anger that others could be so inconsiderate, why was I often to only in the group to be thinking of others. It led to a kind of self-righteousness, a resentment that I could not just be self-interested. Of course I was self-interested, my learned helplessness was a form of manipulation, my lack of skills often more a lack of trying than a lack of skill or competency.

Walter Brueggemann write a slim text on the Psalms where he divided them into three types; songs of orientation (stasis), songs of disorientation (when the status quo breaks down) and songs of new orientation (when we create something new out of what we have learned and what still works). When I have a grievance I look at the status quo, what is, and ask is going on that is not working. What can I change about this, what is out of my control? Some of this period is the cathartic rant, Kim and Lucy hear this. But I tire of this quickly, I am a person of ideas and action, not strong feeling. So I move out of grievance quickly to accept blame and see where the seeds of disorientation are really coming from. I do not spare myself in this assessment. If my new vision and new action start to move me out of malaise into new orientation I offer thanksgiving for the shift and live into the new me, the new us, the new heaven and new earth. If I am stuck I eventually need to let it go and just accept that I will need to be patient until something or someone comes along to move me forward.

I am a white, middle-class, straight, man, who lives in a western affluent culture. It is easy for me to move out of grievance for I am spared this affliction due to my privilege. Still I have learned in 53 years how powerless, joyless and self-destructive it is to be caught up in never-ending grievance, to be stuck. While this may be easy for me to say it is not easy for me to see how harmful this mindset is to the other. The gift of joy given to all humanity is elusive to one who lives in perpetual grievance, producing the ultimate irony, the resentment in the other that others also grieving “have no reason to grieve since I (the afflicted) am far worse off”. Yes it is true, often the most judgmental to those with grievance are others with grievance. It is cycle that cannot be broken until some guidance is sought and lived.

The Psalms are my current guide. They “make me lie down in green pastures; they lead me beside still waters, they restore my soul. They lead me in right paths.” And I am grateful.