“These things you have done and I kept silent. . .” Psalm 21
I listen to books during my half-hour daily workout—and I love it. A while ago it was Population 485, by Michael Perry, whose stories of small-town Wisconsin ring especially clear to those of us who grew up in Dairyland. It’s a meditation, part Thoreau and part John Donne, even though Perry never talks much about his own practice of faith.
One morning not long ago my t-shirt only half-soaked, Perry’s voice was rudely interrupted when another exerciser tuned the radio to Christian praise music—and cranked it way up, assuming we were all devotees.
I never feel so much a sinner as when I’m in the neighborhood of Christian radio or TV. My mother used to tell me that a new tape she played daily prompted her to clench her fists and sing “Majesty,” as powerfully loud as she could. The home she lived in has thick walls, but she was always a good singer and has no complaining neighbors. She loved Christian praise music about as much as I don’t. And for that, I get whacked. She used to say, as I’ve said before, that I’m way too comfortable with worldliness. Maybe so.
That morning, I was annoyed by “Our God is an Awesome God” because I didn’t need a sermon when I was hearing a really memorable meditation from Michael Perry, even though there wasn’t a Billy Graham-like “Jah-ee-sus,” anywhere to be in the narrative.
Some little devil’s voice reminded me just then of how much I dislike the in-your-face Christianity being trumpeted over the buzz of all those exercise machines—including the bike I was on. I got into the Elijah mood, wanting to call in the bears or lightning strikes. But, good night, it’s not just any music that’s interrupting my reverie—it was CHRISTIAN music (as Dave Barry might write it), music about God. What's wrong with me?
I’m not interested in blaming anyone or anything else, but the truth is I thought of Psalm 50 at that moment and its scathing indictments, the angry blasts that God himself levels on those who are adept at all the forms of righteousness and put their stock in them—like listening to a 24/7 diet of Christian contemporary music, I thought. I got petulant and angry, and much of that comes, I suppose, from the still small voice of a lethal case of Calvinist guilt.
I don’t know that God almighty wants us listening to praise or preaching every hour of our lives. I don’t think so. We’ve got things to do in this messy garden. But maybe I’m just trying to excuse my sin.
Maybe the scariest part of this psalm, Psalm 50—more so than the flashes of anger God lowers on those who claim to be his—is what he admits here in verse 21: that he has kept silent. Maybe he was silent this morning, in the middle of my anger and all that gospel noise ringing through a room whose walls are brick; because sometimes I wish he’d tell me if I should have shut off the iPod, curled up my hands like my mother, and sang “Awesome God” at the top of my lungs. Or else, I wish he’d tell the guy who turned on the radio to cut himself some slack and listen to NPR.
“These things you have done," he says, "and I kept silent."
If he would have broken the silence this morning, who would have heard the sermon?
Would either of us?
I turned up the volume on Michael Perry. In the background, of course, was “Awesome God.”
Maybe that's the best I can do in the here and now.