1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
10 The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
In our Psalm series, I chose Psalm 146. After flipping through the Psalms, reading many over and over, one night I opened the page to Psalm 146, I read it, and it clicked. This was the one. Off the bat, David praises God and, rather than trust in humans, he puts his hope in the Lord. What that means to me is that God sustains our hope and ability to keep living and caring for each other and our planet even when things seem to be imploding around us – globally, nationally, and at the very local and even interpersonal level. Some people do not like the word “activism” (Matt!) but I embrace it and I think it is really really hard to sustain yourself as an activist or however you want to label how you do what you do. I don’t know if we can do it as humans alone, with no hope beyond ourselves or with nothing bigger than ourselves to cry out to. Which for me is part of my story of why I need to trust in God. I need to believe.
It is easy to get burned out and disillusioned as we seek justice and try to act according to the ways of Jesus. It is hard to see tangible results sometimes, it seems like the powers in the world are winning and that the “cause of the oppressed” – that the hungry, the widowed, the foreigner, the fatherless, the prisoner – are always the ones who are suffering, who are left behind and fall through the cracks in the systems that structure our society.
An example of such devastation is the story of Camden, New Jersey – a place I have never visited but read about in Chris Hedges’ book, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Once a place of industrial promise, it is now the poorest city in the United States (writes Hedges). Corporations abandoned Camden when production was cheaper elsewhere, then soon after the white, middle-class population abandoned Camden, and left behind a community filled with despair. It is a long story, and here Chris Hedges describes what has happened since Camden was abandoned:
“…once Camden died, its carcass became a dumping ground. The county took over 40 acres of land on the city’s waterfront and built a sewage treatment plant that receives 58-million gallons of wastewater a day. The stench of sewage wafts through the city streets. There is a huge trash-burning plant on the waterfront, that releases noxious clouds. There is alos a prison, a massive cement plant, mountains of scrap metal, a giant shredder, and a planned methadone clinic. Camden is the poster child for post-industrial America., It is a window into the dead end that will come to more and more Americans as corporations “harvest” what is left of the nation for short-term profit and leave behind wreckage and environmental disaster.”
Even amidst this detrimental harvesting of Camden, Chris Hedges also tells the storie of people who are still there and the faint hope that exists:
“And yet, even here hope refuses to die. It flickers and wavers, a tiny flame in a sea of neglect, violence, and despair. It never comes with the great recovery plans or hospital expansions or the building of an aquarium [examples of efforts to revitalize the city]. It never comes from those with the schemes to restore a city that cannot be restored. It never comes from the hollow promises of politicians. It comes with the decision made by one who is wounded to reach out to another who is wounded.”
This is the statement that stuck with me throughout reading the entire book, a book full of stories of other devastated communities that have been betrayed by the corporate and political powers that be.
Coming back to the Psalm, it clearly focuses on God’s solidarity with those who are oppressed, who are poor and powerless – in the Church, both the Catholic church and Protestant church who cannot separate the gospel from what is happening in terms of social injustice in the world, this is very much in line with “the preferential option for the poor”. Here is a reading from Gregory Baum’s book Compassion and Solidarity: The Church for Others where he explores the evolution of social justice within the Catholic church. He explores this perspective from both the side of the “oppressed” and the “privileged” – we also need to remember that this is not so black and white and that some of us are privileged in some ways while powerless in others. But I really like how he describes the following:
“The religious experience of the oppressed is that God is on their side. Society and the world may have discarded them, but God accepts them and empowers them. Alleluia! By contrast, the religious experience of the more privileged is profound outrage. They are overwhelmed by the sense that the suffering they see is against God’s will and that it must and can be stopped. The religious experience demands that Christians extend their solidarity to the oppressed and join them in their struggle for justice.”
What does this look like here in Hamilton? Where have we witnessed or been a part of such solidarity – where do we see humans doing God’s work of giving food to the hungry, setting prisoners free, caring for the widow and the orphan, upholding the cause of the oppressed? Where do we find hope amidst our woundedness? I hope that we have witnessed and been a part of this work, and that we continue to reach out to each other and to God.