The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall

It is clear to me that the politics behind the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s September 16, 2001 sermon before the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago was to stay the hand of vengeance on the part of a regime and a  people then reeling from the events of 9/11.  But it is just as clear that, now seven years later, a disturbingly high percentage of these Americans cannot understand this message.  Nor for what appear to be doctrinal reasons are they capable — even when one lays the Rev. Wright’s sermon directly in front of them, the way that online video services such as YouTube and Blip.TV enable us to do — of recognizing in this sermon anything beyond what their worst nightmares eagerly project onto it.

Many of us have seen the advertisement (1987 -) by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America which depicts eggs frying in a skillet.  The voiceover warns: "This is your brain on drugs."


Well.  Here’s an even better one for the archives at the Smithsonian Institution, which has the merit of deriving from the real world.  From the moment on March 13 that ABC – TV’s Good Morning America first aired a series of excerpts from the Rev. Wright’s sermons, the near-universal denunciation of the sermons has been evidence of an American Mind fried by racial scapegoatting and demonization.    


Wright tells his congregation that he wants to examine Psalm 137 in its entirety — the "powerful and immortal words of a people who are in exile." 


"[I]n all of my years of preaching," he explains, "I have never preached a sermon which dealt with these difficult verses, these last three verses in Psalm 137, these brutally honest verses, and these verses which express what the people of faith really feel after a day of devastation and senseless death.  And that is exactly what these three verses express."


The last three verses of Psalm 137 express the desire for vengeance of the people who have suffered the destruction of Jerusalem, and now live as slaves under the foreign power who destroyed it:

 7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did
       on the day Jerusalem fell.
       "Tear it down," they cried,
       "tear it down to its foundations!"

 8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
       happy is he who repays you
       for what you have done to us —

 9 he who seizes your infants
       and dashes them against the rocks.

Although Wright says that he had never preached a sermon that dealt with the faithful’s desire for vengeance, 9/11 changed this. "Today…the spirit of God has nudged me to touch [these verses] and to treat them prayerfully, as many of us try to sort out what it is we are feeling and why it is we are feeling what we feel after the trauma and the tragedy of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, symbols of who America is — the money and the military."


Wright continued:


Some of the feelings we have as people of faith in the 21st century are similar to the feelings that people of faith had in the 6th Century BC.  And when you read and study this Psalm in its entirety, the parallel between those feelings becomes almost eerily crystal clear.  That’s why I didn’t want you to stop at the famous and the familiar Verse 6.  I wanted you to read, to hear, and to experience all nine verses of Psalm 137 to get the full scope of what it is this song is saying….The day of Jerusalem‘s fall.  The day of Jerusalem‘s fall.  The day of Jerusalem‘s fall.


In what follows, I will transcribe a little shy of ten minutes of Wright’s September 16, 2001 sermon.  My reasons for undertaking this are twofold.  The first is for the sake of the record: I don’t believe that a transcript of this sermon exists — certainly Wright’s own church hasn’t made one avalable.  As this sermon — particularly its "chickens coming home to roost" fragment — has been maliciously misrepresented and attacked since March 13, it can’t hurt the historical record to place at least a segment of it into circulation.  (The sooner that Trinity United Church of Christ gets these "controversial" sermons transcribed, the better.  They can serve as a basis for libel and slander lawsuits.)


But my second reason is dearer to me. — I am at a loss for words to describe how much fear and hatred lie behind the scapegoatting and demonization of the Rev. Wright and his sermons — so much so, in fact, that even though it is possible, as in the case at hand, to draw evidence from the actual sermon to show that it has been grotesquely misrepresented, racial fear and hatred are so embedded in the dominant (white) American culture that people keep insisting that it is Wright who is full of fear and hatred.  As with all projection, the fear and hatred within the people engaging in this psychological phenomenon are falsely attributed to the object; and given the media available to us all — though to some far more so than others — the projection takes on a socio-psychological life of its own.   


The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has been accused of preaching hatred in this sermon.  Although false, this charge has stuck.  It sticks because the people who make it and who repeat it want to believe that it is true.  But whatever it was that the Reverend’s God may or may not have told him as he waited to return to Chicago from New Jersey during the first four days after 9/11, the self-examination that the Reverend preaches never hurt any person.  And in 2008, self-examination is precisely what the racial scapegoatting and the demonization of Wright and his sermons — likely repeated with his other sermons too — deliberately deny us.   




"The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall" (Video-file), September 16, 2001
"The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall" (Audio-file), September 16, 2001

(This transcript picks-up the Rev. Wright’s sermon at the 14-second mark of the YouTube video-clip, and at the 17:04 – minute mark of the SonicMountain audio-clip.  Standard ellipses ( …. ) indicate where I’ve not bothered to transcribe something in the sermon.  But as I’m providing both video- and audio-clips, this should cause no problems.)

[00:14 / 17:04] Every public service of worship I have heard about so far in the wake of the American tragedy has had in its prayers and in its preachments sympathy and compassion for those who were killed and for their families, and God’s guidance upon the selected presidents in our war machine as they do what they do, and what they gotta do: Payback. 


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.  


[1:16 / 18:05]  Look at the verse.  Look at Verse 9.  Look at 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, O Jerusalem — the people of faith have moved from the hatred of armed enemies — these soldiers who captured the King, those soldiers who slaughtered his son and put his eyes out, the soldiers who sacked the city, burned the towns, burned the temple, burned the towers — they have moved from the hatred for 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. 


[2:12 / 19:02] Yet, that is where the people of faith are in 551 BC, and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD. 


We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents.  We want revenge, we want paybacks, and we don’t care who gets hurt in the process.


Now, I asked the Lord: What should our response be in light of such an unthinkable act? —


But before I share with you what the Lord showed me, I want to give you one of my little "Faith Footnotes," visitors I often give "Faith Footnotes" so that our members don’t lose sight of the big picture…. 


[3:15 / 20:04] I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday — Did anybody else see him or hear him?  He was on FOX News — this is a white man, and he was upsetting the FOX News commentators to no end.  He pointed out — Did you see him John? — a white man, he pointed out — an ambassador — that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Muhammad was in fact true: America‘s chickens are coming home to roost.


[3:50 / 20:40] We took this country by terror away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arawak, the Comanche, the Rappaho, the Navajo.  Terrorism.


We took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear.  Terrorism.


We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians ….


We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with stealth bombers ….


We bombed Qaddafi’s home and killed his child.  "Blessed are they who bash your children’s heads against a rock."


We bombed Iraq.  We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living….


We bombed a plant in Sudan ….


We bombed Hiroshima.  We bombed Nagasaki.  And we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon — and we never batted an eye.


Kids playing in the playground.  Mothers picking up children after school.  Civilians — not soldiers — people just trying to make it day-by-day.


We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back into our own front yards.  America‘s chickens are coming home to roost.


[5:32 / 22:22] Violence begets violence.  Hatred begets hatred.  And terrorism begets terrorism.  A white ambassador said that, ya’ll.  Not a black militant.  Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador who’s eyes are wide open, and who’s trying to get us to wake up, and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised.  The ambassador said the people that we are wounded don’t have the military capability that we have.  But they do have individuals who are willing to die and to take thousands with them.  And we need to come to grips with this.


Let me stop my "Faith Footnote" right there ….


[6:20 / 23:10] Now.  Now.  Come on back to my question to the Lord.  What should our response be, right now, in light of such an unthinkable act?


I ask the Lord that question Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I was stuck in Newark, New Jersey.  No flights were leaving La Guardia, JFK, or Newark Airport. …. 


[7:05 / 23:55] And I asked God: What should our response be?


I saw pictures of the incredible.  People jumping from the 110th floor.  People jumping from the roof, ’cause the stairwells and the elevators above the 89th floor were gone, no more.  Black people jumping to a certain death.  People holding hands — jumping.  People on fire — jumping. 


And I asked the Lord: What should our response be? 


I read what the people of faith felt in 551 BC.  But this is a different time.  This is a different enemy.  This is a different terror.  This is a different reality. — What should our response be?


[7:52 / 24:44] And the Lord showed me three things. — Let me share them with you quickly, and I’ll leave you alone to think about the "Faith Footnote."


Number One: The Lord showed me that this is a time for self-examination. 


As I sat 900 miles away from my family and my community of faith, two months after my own father’s death, God showed me that this was a time for me to examine my relationship with God.  My own relationship with God.  My personal relationship with God.  I submit to you that this is the same for you.


Folk flocked to the church in New Jersey last week.  You know.  That "Foxhole religion syndrome" kicked-in.  That emergency-cord religion.  You know.  That little red-box you see: "Pull in case of emergency."  It showed up full-force.  Folk who ain’t thought about coming to church for years were in church last week.  I heard that mid-week prayer services all over this country which are poorly attended 51 weeks a year were jam-packed all over the nation, the week of the hijackings, the 52nd week.  Filled with folk.


But the Lord said: This ain’t the time for you to be examining other folk’s relationship.  This is a time of self-examination.  The Lord said to me: How is our relationship doing, Jeremiah?  How often do you talk to me, personally?  How often do you let me talk to you privately?  How much time do you spend trying to get right with me, or do you spend all your time trying to get other folk right? 


This is a time for me to examine my own relationship with God.  Is it real or is it fake?  Is it forever or is it for show?  Is it something that you do for the sake of the public, or is it something that you do for the sake of eternity?  This is a time to examine my own and a time for you to examine your own relationship with God.


Self-examination. [#####]  [9:55 / 26:45]


"Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11," Brian Ross and Rehab El-Buri, Good Morning AmericaABC – TV, March 13, 2008

Psalm 137 (New International Edition)

Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, USA
Trinity United Church of Chicago’s YouTube Webpage

"Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Calls U.S. War Plan Dumb," Crossfire, CNN, October 8, 2001 (as posted to the CounterPunch website)

"Of National Lies and Racial America," Tim Wise, CounterPunch, March 18, 2008

"Audacity and Hopelessness," ZCom, March 16, 2008
Rev. Jeremiah Wright for President
," ZCom, March 17, 2008 
Audacity and Hopelessness II
," ZCom, March 30, 2008
"‘The Day of Jerusalem‘s Fall’," ZCom, April 4, 2008  


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