Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Afghanistan Speech: and a Prayer for Obama (Psalm 109:28 )

I watched the President's speech on Afghanistan troop deployments. Agree or disagree, it was a great speech by a great man.

I am literally praying that President Obama's gamble of sending more troops is vindicated because there is no way he or anyone else can really know how this will turn out. He's had to pick up the ball President Bush dropped by starting a war of choice (for no good reason) in Iraq that added years to the deadly "life" of the war in Afghanistan through near criminal neglect.

Had Bush done a better job we'd be out by now and bin Laden would be dead. As it is Obama faces bad choices he inherited but I believe that he's making the best of it and showing great courage.

Having said that I absolutely support our President, our troops and our country. It just saddens me immeasurably that what Obama laid out in his speech and what we are doing now, we should and could have done 8 years ago as a united country. Had we acted then, when bin Laden was cornered in Tora Bora, we would have gotten him.

I also remain proud of my son John for having volunteered to serve his country, when he joined the Marines (in 1999), and for having served in two deployments to Afghanistan. He, like all our troops, paid his own price.

On a very personal note I'd like to see my son's sacrifice vindicated by eventual American success. I wish the President well and have virtually unlimited admiration for this moderate, humble, brilliant and thoughtful leader.

It seems to me that it is time to pray for our troops and our president. Speaking of which... Here is a guest blog by Kurt Queller
(Departments of English and Foreign Languages University of Idaho)

A bible verse recently made Google’s “Trends” list of most-searched items. The reason was a new line of bumper stickers and other paraphernalia sporting the slogan “Pray for Obama—Psalm 109:8.”

That verse reads: “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” [NIV]

Some portray this as a joke. But the very next verse continues: “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”

There is a bitter irony here. Psalm 109 is a plea for vindication against attackers. The psalm begins and ends with the psalmist’s own prayers for protection (vv. 1-5, 20-31). The intervening passage (including v. 8) quotes the accusers’ slanders and curses.

Biblical Hebrew doesn’t expllcitly mark quotations, but here it signals one through shifting pronouns. The psalmist seeks defense against a “they” (plural) who falsely “accuse me” (singular). The hateful imprecations of vv. 6-19, meanwhile, are directed against a single man; their “may he…/ may his…” petitions reflect curses maliciously hurled against the psalmist. This is clearly marked in some translations (“They say:…” [v. 6 NRSV, NIV footnote…]).

To fellow Christians tempted to propagate this nasty “Pray for Obama” meme by hitting the “forward” button (let alone by displaying it on a bumper, laptop or T-shirt), I say: please reflect, and repent.

We might well pray Psalm 109 on Obama’s behalf. If so, let’s not stupidly and maliciously invoke the curses of the psalmist’s accusers. Instead, let’s recall his own final words of trust in a God who stands beside those wrongly vilified and threatened (vv. 28ff):

“They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice. … For [the Lord] stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him.”

To which I and my family add a simple Amen


Elisabeth said...


Gillian said...

I don't necessarily agree with President Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, but respect that it was the "least bad" option out of a list of generally bad options.

He has been left with an incredible mess to try fixing, and it's our responsibility as a country to support those efforts.

I'm not a religious person, and am not familiar with the psalms, but I find the passage of 109:28 both you and Kurt Queller have quoted to be the best response to all the hatred that has been flung in our President's direction.

James said...


Carole said...

First of all, thank you for your courage in speaking out against religious extremism in all of your posts and interviews.

Second, would you mind asking your publisher to make Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism) available for the Kindle?

Thanks in advance!

Kurt said...

Thanks, Frank, for hosting my Psalm 109 piece!

Like Gillian, I'm among those who had hoped for a different decision on Afghanistan. (I'm not even sure it's the "least bad" of several bad options.) I've been impressed by the arguments of two conservative scholars with military experience: Andrew Bacevich and Rory Stewart. (Stewart also has extensive, literal "on-the-ground" experience in Afghanistan; he once traversed the entire country on foot.)

Both argue that the ambitious nation-building goals of current counterinsurgency doctrine are unrealizable in Afghanistan, esp. in the Pashtun south. Both oppose complete disengagement, but argue that our basic national security objectives could better be met by pursuing more modest goals, with a smaller military footprint. (I suspect that Obama seriously considered their arguments, but found himself boxed in politically.)

In any event, let's not forget to pray for our soldiers, and to give concrete support to our returning vets. (They bear the brunt of all this, while we remain largely disengaged.) But let's also not forget Obama. This situation risks doing him in, much as the Vietnam War did in Johnson.

That's if the wingnuts on the right don't do him in first. Frank is right: this sneering "Pray for Obama" rhetoric is "trolling for assassins." The majority on the religious right of course would not respond violently to the still, small "dog-whistles" that it contains, but there are violent fringe elements for whom this is red meat. Let's continue to hold conservative religious leaders accountable; they do need to stand up and denounce this rhetoric.

Kurt said...

That would be "TRAWLING for assassins." (And me, a linguist!) :)

If you haven't seen Frank's interview with Rachel Maddow, where he discusses this at length, and would like to, it's here:


Ben Daniel said...

Frank--thanks for this piece. I'm struggling with the Presient's decision, and I appreciate you wisom as I think through the issues.

@Carole: Pateince is available on kindle. Check Amazon again.

Ben Daniel