Protest and Praise
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people continually say to me, “Where is your God?” – Psalm 42:1-3 (NKJV)
The day after Rayshard Brooks was murdered by an Atlanta police officer, I served on a team of “protest chaplains” as people gathered to express grief and rage at police for yet another Black man needlessly gunned down.
Our role was to support people’s right to protest, deescalate tension, serve as shields between police and citizens, and, through our presence in clerical attire, represent the solidarity of the church with the community.
Many lovely songs and paintings have been inspired by “As the deer longs for water…” Rarely, if ever, do these homages include verse three: “My tears have been my food day and night because people are tormenting me.” Those words are a better fit for poster board in a BLM protest than decor from a Christian bookstore.
Black and brown people in Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Louisville, Brunswick, everywhere, know the diet of tears too well. The thirst for justice, equality and an end to violence goes back a long, long way.
Psalm 42 does not end with a cheery picture of the future. Instead the psalmist encourages praising God even when enemies taunt, making praise a form of protest and protest a form of praise.
That means “protest chaplains” might also serve as “praise captains,” praising God for the victory that will soon be won.
God, when victory seems a long way off and I don’t feel like praising, remind me that you are marching too.
Matt Laney is the Senior Pastor of Virginia Highland Church UCC in Atlanta, GA and the author of Pride Wars, a fantasy series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Young Readers. The first two books, The Spinner Prince and The Four Guardians are available now.