Can America be the Land of the Brave?

Y’all know this story, right?

About how King David of Israel saw a woman bathing and asked who she was. David’s advisors told him she was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s soldiers. David’s messengers “brought Bathsheba to him.” They had sex. David then arranged for her husband Uriah to be killed in battle because he wanted Bathsheba for himself.

So, according to the Bible, Kind David was a Peeping Tom who used his kingly power to have sex with a woman and murdered her husband, a man who was in David’s service. But, according to the homily Sunday, God never abandoned his love for David. Which was the point of the sermon: God loves us straight through our flaws.

Believe it or not, this post isn’t a conversation about religion. Or God or, on balance, whether David the holy man was also an asshole. The question is, how do we know about David’s flaws? How do we know exactly what he did? How do we know that it was so bad, God punished David by killing his first child with Bathsheba?

Because his people told us.

In telling their history, David’s people included all the bad stuff about their leader. Told it straight up, no cutting out the bad. Wrote it down, even, so those who came after would know the truth. Those preserving the community’s past didn’t lie, then yell at anyone who worked to tell the full story. They didn’t mumble excuses to soften the truth (“But that’s the way kings acted back then!”) They trusted the community to hear the whole complicated history and make up its own mind.

Ultimately, that’s trusting love: tell the whole truth and trust your listeners to absorb the bad and keep the love. Yes, leaders can take the easy way out. They can scramble to pass laws forbidding the truth be taught in schools. Poke their thumbs in their ears and la-la-la it as they pretend they don’t hear the truth.

It’s a tempting option. After all, looking truth in the face requires bravery. Seeing the truth might require that you admit people are human creatures. That those you’ve admired, who, perhaps, were one of your personal heroes, are deeply flawed. Maybe your family is flawed. Maybe even you are flawed.

But the Israelites resisted this option. Instead, they were brave unto God.

May we Americans one day be so brave.

Comments (8)

  • I have always been impressed with your writings and sometimes I am amazed. This is the perfect answer to those.who are afraid of Criticsl Rsce Theory. I hope this piece gets wider circulation. Perhaps an Op Ed somewhere. I think the country and especially the southern part needs to hear your voice. Keep bringing it!

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I did think, Joe, that it might resonate with those who, like me, listen to the Bible every Sunday. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. <3

  • As Joe said, your writing is always engaging. It makes us think about our own flaws, and how we can do better, without feeling at all preachy. As Madeleine L’Engle said: “Writers think. Writers ask questions. Writers are dangerous…. In any dictatorship writers are the first to be imprisoned. . . . Writers are quick to see injustice, and rouse the people to do something about it.”

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I’m so glad it doesn’t come across as preachy–sometimes I feel like I’m using my “outside” voice. But whenever I start saddling up my high-horse, I almost immediately get knocked off by the very next occurrence in my life that shows me I’m doing exactly what I’m complaining about. Falling on my butt helps retool my perspective. 🙂

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