By the rivers of Babylon,
Where we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing is one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the LORD’s song
In a foreign land?
I’m taking a course in Washington that focuses on journeying with people who are oppressed and feel abandoned by society, the church and God.
As part of our program we visited a camp for migrant farm workers where we saw the living conditions and heard the stories of some of the leaders in the community. All the workers were Mexican, and all were illegal immigrants. One man told of his family being kidnapped and held ransom by the smugglers. Another man talked of the farms in California that charge more for rent than they are able to make during a month’s work. A third man told us how his nephew had just been killed in a car accident. He asked for money so that they could fly the body back to Mexico. It’s actually cheaper for them to send their dead back across the border than it is to have a burial in the USA.
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill.
May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.
I understand what the Prof was trying to do – make the stories real, give suffering a human face, perhaps awaken dormant consciences. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were going about everything the wrong way. It felt more like a peep show than anything else. A quick glance, a hurried intimacy, and then they’re off to the fields and we’re driving back to the classroom.
I’m always left wondering: how do you walk the line between promoting awareness and contributing to the problem? There must be a way in which such things can be spoken of, can be communicated, that does not contribute to the problem. Such things cannot be unspeakable for that only furthers the isolation and alienation experienced by those who have suffered.
I think that being entertained by the suffering of others is a epidemic problem in our culture. Although the emotions such sights arouse in us are not always termed pleasurable it seems that we take pleasure in having such emotions aroused. It is doubly epidemic in our churches where we not only treasure those feelings but then treasure the feelings of sympathy that follow close behind. “Look, I’m crying… I’m such a loving person, such a good Christian.” We think we are loving or compassionate because of our feelings, never realizing that we are apathetic or hateful if such feelings do not result in action.
I can empathize with the grief that causes the Psalmist to conclude:
O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock.
– Psalm 137.7-9
Sometimes it is hard not to resort to violence.
By the rivers of Babylon,