cry out

With the baking day cancelled, today’s schedule eased enough for me to engage with the suggestion I’d posted on Hermione’s Heaven this week — to read the (whole of?) the book of Psalms.

I chose to pick up The Message, which has sat ignored on my shelf since I bought it with a Wesley Owen token someone had foolishly given me.   I don’t expect to like The Message, but lots of people are reading it, so…

I began at the beginning — never the easiest place to start with the Psalms.   I read:

How well God must like you —
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth college.  (Ps 1.1, The Message)

Now, I knew it was a paraphrase,  but how did we get there from:

How blessed is anyone who rejects the advice of the wicked
and does not take a stand in the path that sinners tread,
nor a seat in company with cynics…   (Ps 1.1, NJB)

Still, I perservered.

Ps 2.1 —
Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?  (oh how I wish that were ‘people’)

Ps 4.2-3 —
You rabble — how long do I put up with you scorn

Look at this: look
Who got picked by God!
He listens the split second I call to him.

Ps 5.1, 4-7 —
Listen, God! Please, pay attention!

You don’t socialize with Wicked,
or invite Evil over as your houseguest.
Hot-Air-Boaster collapses in front of you;
you shake your head over Mischief-Maker.
God destroys Lie-Speaker;
Blood-Thirsty and Truth-Bender disgust you.
And here I am, your invited guest–
it’s incredible


Ps 6.1-2 —
Please, God, no more yelling,
no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
I’m so starved for affection.
Can’t you see I’m black and blue,
beat up badly in bones and soul?
God how long will it take you to let up?

I almost had to stop reading there.  Have we really just implied that God is an abusive parent?

So by psalm seven, when I read

Ps 7.1 —
God! God! I am running to you for dear life;
the chase is wild.
If they catch me, I’m finished

…  I knew I was rooting for the other guy.

I am all for modern language in scripture and in worship.  I am all for finding  ways to tell the bible story that will speak more readily to those for whom it is unfamiliar.

But this just made me want to run screaming ‘no, no, that is not the God I believe in.’

I know the psalms can be hard in any version.  There are psalms of great beauty, but there are also psalms that  are petty and vindictive, projecting all our hopes for vengeance onto God.   Most translations of the psalms do not hide their foreignness.   The images and structures are ancient, and we are free  to hope we have moved on — as a culture and as people of faith — from some of what we find there.

Peterson’s paraphrase  does away with all that.  There is no distance, and I (wrongly?) get the sense that I’m supposed to be right there with the narrator, saying ‘na-na-na-na-na’ every time the wicked get punished or I experience the blessing of God.   I don’t want to be there; I cannot overcome the feeling of disgust.

So, I’m going to start over again, with something safe like the New Jerusalem Bible (always good for poetry). Then perhaps later, I will  summon the courage to read another bit of The Message (Gospels?  Epistles?) in the hope that my first impressions will be proven wrong.

9 thoughts on “cry out”

  1. You could try an older translation – say the King James Bible version and then compare and contrast with a modern translation. Especially to see how inclusive (or otherwise) the two versions are.

    Another thought – and I hope Fr Provost will forgive me in suggesting it – is to look at the 1929 Prayer Book version. My introduction to Anglican chanting was via this version.

  2. I know how inclusive (or otherwise) that version is. I might well choose to chant from it, but not to read or pray from it otherwise.

    The phone rang, and then rang again, so I’m afraid no more psalms were read tonight.

  3. If not very careful, you are once again going to end up herding cats.

    I always tend to think the nastiest Psalms are most satisfactory – it’s the smug ones I struggle with. But I’m the woman who does not like holding crosses because the accommodate themselves to the human hand.

    By shere co-incidence, my move has left me with only 3 Bibles unpacked – the NRSV and the Greek New Testament and the Message. Unable to locate the NRSV momentarily and needing to locate a Matthean passage I made the mistake of looking at Mat 7 in the Message – leaving myself asking ‘Whit?’ Yet, yet – there was the odd spark. I liked the ravening wolves being turned into preachers after your wallet.

  4. I have a Message NT – bits of it drive me nuts, but then again there were one or two passages in the Epistles where the completely different paraphrase gave me a lightbulb “ah so THAT’S what he was on about” moment (don’t worry, I then went back to a more kosher version just to make sure!!).

  5. I always go to the New Jerusalem Bible for poetry too. Just wonderful. In my OT class, a number of people read Samuel in The Message (alongside other translations) and really engaged with the narrative through it. I’ve managed to resist buying it so far, so I can’t really offer much.

  6. I’m not sorry I bought it. But it has no place in an OT class.

    1&2 Samuel need no help from The Message to be enthralling narrative. If he can save Chronicles from tedium, I might reconsider. But then again, do I want so save Chronicles from tedium…?

  7. if you want engagement with the OT, you can’t go wrong with Robert Alter. I haven’t read his translations of Samuel (I think it’s published as The David Story), but Genesis is wonderful. I also have found some intriguing bits from the Epistles in The Message, but quite some time ago and I’m not sure what I would make of them now. Psalms – definitely no. I’m not familiar with the New Jerusalem Bible, this is making me curious.

  8. New Jerusalem is the RC’s answer to the NRSV. It is particularly good for prophets and poetry, and prints the tetragrammaton as Yahweh, but less helpful for reading aloud (though I find the substitution is automatic now).

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