I was in a pew at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, on September 16, 2001. Although I was never a member of this now infamous congregation, I did attend Trinity regularly during the seven years I lived and worked in Chicago.
September 16, 2001 was the first Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC. On that Sunday Reverend Jeremiah Wright preached a sermon whose often-distorted excerpts became fodder for attack on candidate Barack Obama. Most people in America remember it as the "Chickens Coming Home to Roost" sermon.
For me, Wright’s sermon on that Sunday will always be the sermon of Psalm 137.
On the clear, blue morning when terrorists took down the World Trade Center towers, destroyed the Pentagon, and murdered thousands of my fellow Americans, I was six months pregnant with my first child. As an expectant mother I felt a particular kind of terror in the aftermath of the attacks. Like other Americans, I knew the world was forever changed; the reality into which my daughter would be born would be marked by this violence in ways I found scary and unpredictable. Like many others, I was confused, angry, sad, and deeply terrorized.
In this state I found my way to church. I remember how sad and unusually quiet we were as a congregation. I remember that many of us were looking for meaning and for comfort. I remember Reverend Wright preaching from Psalm 137.
Here is what he said:
"There’s a move in Psalm 137 from thoughts of paying tithes to thoughts of paying back. A move if you will from worship to war. A move in other words from the worship of the God of creation, to war against those whom God created. And I want you to notice very carefully the next move. One of the reasons this psalm is rarely read in its entirety because it is a move that spotlights the insanity of the cycle of violence and the cycle of hatred.
Look at the verse, Verse 9: ‘Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks.’ The people of faith, by the rivers of Babylon, how should we sing the Lord’s song if I forget thee? The people of faith have moved from the hatred of armed enemies, these soldiers who captured the King, those soldiers who slaughtered his sons and put his eyes out, the soldiers who sacked the city, burned their towns, burned the temple, burned their towers. They moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. The babies. The babies. Blessed are they who dash your babies’ brains against a rock. And that, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be."
I was an expectant mother, and those are the words that have stayed with me for more than eight years: happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rocks.