Last Wednesday, which did double duty as Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday, Pastor stood in the pulpit to read the scripture Joel 2:12-17. First he said that he doesn’t often read from Joel. Then he read this to us:
“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Rend your heart
and not your garments….
On a day when we were called to contemplate both love and death, this was an excellent scripture choice. But I was left curious about what else is in the book of Joel that makes it unlikely to be read. That evening I started in on the first chapter, and found this:
Lament over the Ruin of the Country
Hear this, O elders,
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children another generation.
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
I don't know about you, but when I read that, I get an image of teenaged boys at a high school cafeteria table eating off each other’s plates. But put that aside, and ponder the utter destruction here. In English it sounds like All Locusts All the Time, but in Hebrew, it’s even worse: those are four different types of pests. In the King James Version, one of them bugs is called the “cankerworm.” Okay, grossness and not one crumb of food left. Annihilation.
We have met the locusts, and they are us. We seem intent upon slaughter of ourselves. Perhaps it is we ourselves who have not demanded loudly enough a solution to the ills that plague us. We are content to let the killing continue. I rend my heart.
It’s true that I have never had a run-in with actual locusts that ruined my actual crops. Let’s acknowledge that locusts are Prophet Joel’s metaphor for invading troops, but still, I haven’t experienced that either. (Although I hear there are some Russian bots…) Life in modern America is, by most counts, a vast improvement over life during the time of the prophet Joel in ancient Palestine.
I can’t say that my country is ruined (yet), but I will lament over its diminishment. Just this week, there’s the inability of the Senate to pass legislation on immigration, there’s another mass shooting, there’s the gutting of the American with Disabilities Act, and there’s the Secretary of Agriculture’s “American Harvest Box” proposal, a dignity-smashing way to keep poor, hungry people in their place, while enriching canned food and shipping companies.
Calls for “thoughts and prayers” from my legislators make a mockery of addressing God, as if those legislators had no possible means of bringing change for the better. No, Mr. Congressman, I will not pray for those who died. They are dead.
They are dead, Mr. Congressman.
I will pray for you, Mr. Congressman, to, at the very least, set up a permanent tax-payer funded pool of money to cover the costs of the people who survive our incessant mass shootings and who, because of your cold-hearted votes, have no health insurance. I will pray for you, Mr. Congressman, to have the courage to pass a ban on bump stocks. To have the courage to allow research on gun violence and prevention. To have the courage to give back the money you took from the NRA. To have the courage to…
It seems entirely right to rend my heart.