“You Don’t Like Me! You Really Don’t Like Me!” Why I Am Embracing Charges of Divisiveness in Trump’s America

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When I was a young teenager, I voiced my own version of #notallwhites. My mentors and peers of color, most often lovingly but sometimes exasperatedly, directed me toward understanding it is #notaboutyou. Endlessly asking others to assuage my goodness or affirm my nonthreatening whiteness sidetracked discussions. Since I was shown this, I haven’t been able to unsee it. Every now and again, I slip and offer up a more sophisticated version, but the impetus is the same: please affirm to me that I am not racist.

I’m racist. I actively fight against it, but I’m racist because I continue to benefit from systems that are built on a foundation of racist oppression.

In my late teens and early twenties I flirted with what is now called Meninism. I have a horrible memory that haunts me that I might one day write about, but I am still so mortified it is overwhelming. Let’s just say that in college I hijacked a presentation on sexual violence made by fellow female students and demanded that an asterisk be applied to everything they said. #notallmen

Really, this memory plagues me. It causes me to physically shudder and groan. Five years after it happened I was married to a feminist scholar, and while the marriage didn’t last, her impact on me did. #yesallmen is pretty much spot on, at least for me.

I converted to Christianity about 15 years ago and I have often said that I feel part of the ministry laid before me is #notallChristians. I used to think this would arise from saying the right things, making it clear that I decry the sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, racism, and other prejudices that too often are present in the Body of Christ. In the past two years I’ve realized that much, much more important than what I say is what I do. I no longer ask people to trust me, I try to show them. To earn their trust. To live my life as though I am a walking safety pin.

I delivered a sermon yesterday that has proved to be controversial, and appears to have caused one person to leave the church. The charges: I was univitational. Divisive. 

I did not sleep much last night. I wrote an email in which I attempted to thread the needle between lamenting that my words caused distress while maintaining that I do not accept that anything I said was outside of the Word. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that over 700 incidents of hateful harassment and violence have occurred since the election of November 8th.  I’ve already blocked white dudes on my Facebook page who continued to argue for “isolated incidents,” or more often: “Emails! Benghazi! Foundation!” I don’t think I have even written Secretary Clinton’s name in a blog or a Facebook post since the election, but even if I have it is in passing or secondary to the larger point. I reject the notion that speaking about acts of violence and racism is in itself an act of violence and racism. My decrying these acts has now become more controversial and problematic than the acts themselves. And I do not want to be part of a Church that acts like our duty is to assuage the feelings of those who want to claim that this past election was like all the others we’ve had since 1864.

But the impetus to be liked is still in me. Part of me wants to apologize and smooth things over so that I am not regarded as controversial. After a rough patch with the Session of the congregation I serve, we had a powerful, transformative meeting on Thursday and I am not eager for more conflict. It would be easier for me to give a mea culpa and to start crafting sermons that are feel-good, milquetoast offerings that sand down the rough edges of God’s word and emphasizes that while we are different in the world we are all the same in the Body of Christ.

Frankly, if I ever do that I hope one of y’all will grab the clerical collar from my neck and tell me to go back to bartending. We don’t need another white male pastor who affirms the status quo. Despite its best efforts, even the European-American Church couldn’t turn Jesus into such a person, so I’m determined not to let it happen to me, either.

Jesus did not come to earth to make us in the dominant culture feel better about ourselves; Jesus came to earth to show us how to lovingly, yet boldly live our lives as ongoing protests against that which suffocates, oppresses, marginalizes, inhibits, and deceives. Jesus taught us that #Samaritanlivesmatter. Jesus taught us to #loveyourenemies, and part of that love is speaking truth to power, even with a shaking voice.

I won’t pretend that this is easy, but my struggles are not what is important here. While I want the Church to always be a welcoming place, if you are looking for a worship experience that confirms your prejudices and doesn’t hold up the Gospel like a mirror, I’m not the right pastor. I try very hard to not castigate people–a point I make repeatedly, despite my detractors never hearing it–but I rail against existential and spiritual realities that devastate people’s lives because that has been God’s call on God’s people for 6,000 years. 

I pray that the person who feels alienated by my sermon accepts my offer to speak in person. I certainly plan to listen, and even if I disagree to make sure that I understand the objections and concerns. This does not mean I will acquiesce. And if I am labeled as divisive, I will embrace that; if speaking out against violence, sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the myriad other hatreds that are occurring across the country makes me more divisive than the actual acts themselves, so be it. I’ll channel my inner Sally Field and proclaim my unlikability.

 

If Racism Don’t Live Here, It Sure Do Visit A Lot

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I know only what Ms. Brown has reported. I am not speaking to the facts. I am responding to someone in my larger community putting out a call. Until there is any provable reason to think otherwise, I take this as something to which I must draw attention. I wasn’t there, and this blog is more about the issues the story raises rather than litigating the narrative.  

The door of the car that Dietrina Brown worked so hard to acquire, now a daily reminder of a recent trip to the Kroger on Dayton-Yellow Springs Road that so many of us frequent. You can read the whole story here. In full disclosure, I do not know Ms. Brown. Her story was brought to my attention by a member of the Beloved Community Project (BCPYS), of which I am Founding Director of Interfaith Spirituality and Education. She’s my neighbor, though. Our towns are right next door. She’s a child of God. She is someone who has to drive by the hundreds of Trump signs in every corner of our county.  She has to think about her race each and every moment of the day because we have a society that won’t let her forget it, but shuns her when she talks about it. It is stuff like this that requires we say Black Lives Matter. This, and the bodies left in the streets while communites reel in disgust, grief, anger, and desperation. 

The denomination I serve, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has called for its majority white membership and clergy to stop with the thoughts and prayers. To stop with damaging theology that asks the oppressed to suffer for a greater glory and yet does nothing to afflict the comfortable. This is not about demonizing people. I am tired of hearing that I am ashamed to be “white” or that I am advocating self-hatred. I am not trying to guilt or shame anyone; I used to think that dealing with my own racism and implicit biases meants admitting I’m a bad person. Luckly, growing up in YS, being surrounded by diversity and living in a place in which social justice commitment is in the water, I learned that no one wants guilt. It does nothing but destroy. Awareness and compassion, though, are vital; when they replace guilt and shame, persons get in touch with their own call to this movemet. To this transformation of consciousness. They own their own part in being within a larger community that rises up in love and solidarity around issues such as stopping racial terror. 

I believe that we all are created imago dei. If I want to see God, I cannot hold out for a burning bush or theophonic speech. I have to look into the eyes of my neighbor. I have to be so counter-culture that I actually love myself. Not engage in Trumpian narcissism. But love myself. Understanding that God has planted within me, within all of us,, something divine. Our bodies are made with star dust and our minds can unravel mysteries and bring things into creation. My denomination has called for me to use every ounce of privilege I have in standing up and shoutin’: ENOUGH.
In our neighborhood, this has happened. The n-word scratched onto a car. The open disdain that is being boldly paraded around our streets is new only in its audacity; for those of us who have lived here for decades, we have always known. Every single one of my friends of color from here or who have visited here has had a racist incident in Fairborn. I am not claiming that Yellow Springs doesn’t have racist incidents; we do. Generally of very different flavors, but racism just the same. And I certainly am not saying that all people who live in Fairborn are racist. So let’s not get it twisted and start arguing against things that are not there. I know, not all white people. Not all Fairbornites. 

But the car-scratching type of racism visits here. A lot. I know because I see it every weekend when people who obviously despise everything we as a village stand for, come in and gawk at us and talk loudly and point. Who glare at me, pastor of a congregation that has been around since 1855, when I go bounding down the steps of the church because…well, I look the way I do. They take pictures of “hippies,” and we locals always laugh because those aren’t hippies and they don’t live here. YS cosplay is real, except the only people in on it are the locals. We don’t dress up. We live up. These types of tourists walk by each shop and say, “that’s diff’rnt.”They glare at two men holding hands, or feel it is incumbent upon themselves to bring Jesus to Yellow Springs, seeming to forget that we have a house of worship for every 300 or so citizens in the village. We’ve got spiritual life covered, and Jesus is well-represented. Come find out on Sundays, 10:30 at First P resby. Or visit any of the other wonderful  spiritual communities to which we are home; the pointing tourists don’t care to actually learn about this, though. They shout “All Lives Matter” at us because of our BLM signs and T-shirts. They generally try to do a beeline to D.C., one of our favorite sons, and then townies like me gotta jump in and let them know that this is not a photo op. This is home. He’s not Rick James, bitch. We hear the snide remarks about Obama, or how drugs are legal here, or how if you order the right way Ha-Ha’s will give you psychedelic mushrooms on your pie. I know the owner. He is way too cheap to ever do something like that ūüėČ Each weekend we are visited by people who make it known how the abhor us. Again, not all tourists. Not saying that. Let’s not go tilting at windmills.

Our local commerce is not important enough for us to tolerate some of the behavior that is going on; the racists don’t really care anymore because too often there are not consequences. I know that I am going to be accused of being racist or prejudiced against white people, but I am not casting aspersions. There are well-meaning whites who feel so attacked and backed into a corner, and their internalizing of racist fallacies is so deep they feel like they are losing something that belongs to them; they feel heard and understood by someone like Trump. They genuinely don’t see their own racism, and their own circumstances are challenging enough that learning you play a role in other people’s oppression is not exactly great leisure time activity. I get it. It is because white supremacy thinkimg is so ingrained in our culture and sense of self, extricating oneself from it is hard work, yo. 

I thank Ms. Brown for sharing her story. The attention should be on her, helping her to feel more safe, more heard, more empowered, more confident that this will not go unchecked. I am asking for everyone who reads my blog and lives in this area, share Ms. Brown’s original post. I don’t want this to seem like an effort to up my own traffic. The spotlight needs to be on the incident. If you do repost this blog though, thank you and let’s make sure we keep our eyes on the prize.

For those who cannot help Ms. Brown directly, there is something you can do. I can’t tell you exactly what because I don’t know your life and situation. But there are organizations thatcan help, like BLM or SURJ. If you are interested in being part of something new, the BCPYS is in the process of forming. There’s tons of information on our FB page and we are in the process of launching a website; we are also proudly affiliated with the national boycott to end police brutality that starts December 5.

Speaking up is hard. Not looking away is hard. But white people, we have got to step up in the real world. That is scary which is why we all need to be talking to each other on the regular. We have to talk about race. We have to listen to our friends of color bear witness. God is calling for us to be present and acknowledge the very real pain and fear that traditionally marginalized and oppressed people bear. These experiences are literally written onto the body. If you have never held a 300 lb black man with a PhD as he sobs into your embrace because the latest racial slight from the academy is final proof that he would never actually be accepted, you might not understand why I cannot be silent. I cannot look away. God has blessed me with so many friends. And it is like the rainbow coalition up in my social world. If you can’t do it yet, if you can’t speak out or take a lead that’s okay. But I ask that you start doing a little work each day.  We cannot shrug this off. Black people are literally begging us to not be indifferent to their murders and marginalizing, and we’re like, “Well, I’m not racist so I don’t know what else I can do.”

This happened in our neighborhood because we have a culture in which it is allowed to happen. I’m not saying the police; I’m not saying Kroger. I’m saying us. The people who live here. We are letting is happen unless we release a primal scream that will make the devil himself shift uncomfortably in his throne.

To Ms. Brown. I hear you. I see you. I thank you.

All things in love, friends, and in love all things.

 

Yada Yada Yada: (T)ruth on the Threshing Floor

Click here to read Ruth 3.

The Yiddish expression¬†yada yada yada¬†derives from the Hebrew word¬†yada¬†(pronounced with a long first a), which means “know.” So¬†yada yada yada¬†essentially means “you know, you know, you know.” A way to indicate that you’re cutting to the chase, making a long story short.

Above is a clip of one of my favorite¬†Seinfeld¬†episodes, when Elaine¬†yada yadas¬†sex. In Hebrew, the word “know” can also mean to know someone sexually. Same with the Hebrew word for “lie down.” It can be literal, like lying down with someone. Or it can mean to know someone carnally. Similar to our English word sleep. If I were to say, “I slept with someone not my wife last night,” you would probably ask for clarification before smacking me in the face. Maybe not ūüėČ

The words “know” and “lie down,” along with the idioms used in connection with a cloak or wing being spread for protection are throughout Ruth 3. The Hebrew is filled with double entendres; and add to that the fact Ruth and Boaz meet on the threshing floor, biblically the site where prostitutes meet their johns, and you’ve got yourself an exegetical stew going.

Seminary is not the most risque place. Most of what we study is really important and heavy. We have to be prepared to deal with a wide variety of possibilities. But every now and then, things get juicy. I’ve found there are two types of religious people when it comes to talk about sex. There are those who shift in their seats because things are about to get interesting; and there are those who shift in their seats because things are about to get uncomfortable. I’m certainly the former.

The Book of Ruth is one of the shortest in the canon, but also one of the most enigmatic. Lots of congregants have come up to me after service over the past few weeks to express they feel like they are understanding the story for the first time. I mention this not to commend my own preaching, but rather to say that sometimes English translations fall flat. What is at play here in Ruth 3 are commentaries on the nature of power. Who is really in control? Is it Naomi, who sets the plot into motion? Is it Ruth, who goes to the threshing floor to uncover Boaz’s “feet,” which is clearly a euphemism for male genitalia? Is it Boaz, who wants to bed Ruth but is looking for a way to make it culturally justifiable? Numerous books and articles have been written claiming one over another.

Power is as power does.

Boaz clearly has no levitical responsibility to Ruth,that is no legal requirement to marry her as a next of kin. She is a Moabite¬†and not a blood relation. He might have a legal responsibility to Naomi, but most likely not, as she is beyond child-bearing age. We must ask why Naomi forms her plan: is it for her safety or for Ruth’s? Both? Why does Ruth go along? Because she has pledged herself to Naomi? Or because she understands this will be the only way she can discover any sort of protection.

Also at question is the sort of protection she is asking for; is it marriage? Is it permission to live on the land and do more than glean for food? Does she present herself to Boaz to seduce him and trick him into protection? Or does Boaz meet her there so he can purchase her services. The bestowing of six barley complicates the matter even more, as it could be seen as a bridal price, a payment for, ahem, services rendered, or something even more symbolic, like the restoration of six generations of Elimilech’s line. Interpretations abound.

What is the protection here? What is the security? What is the bond between Boaz and Ruth, Boaz and Naomi, Ruth and Naomi? What kind of family will they be?

The system has let Naomi down, and Ruth is an outsider. Can it be made to work for her, and in turn for Naomi, too?

God is in the business of redemption, or forgiveness, of bringing wholeness out of brokenness. But God does not work with magic wands. God works through people and situations. And here, in this beautifully complicated story, we see the ultimate outsider, Ruth, being an agent of redemption. Being one open to God using her to bring together what life has rent asunder.

So often we think we know what a good person looks like; we imagine that if God were going to use someone for good in our lives, those people will likely look like us. Think the same things as us. But this story shows us that God works in mysterious ways, unusual ways, ways that may seem foreign or even uncomfortable for us.

For Christians, the example of Christ mirrors that of Ruth. Jesus went to those who were forced to the periphery and affirmed their blessedness. He brought them into the center of his community because they are at the center of God’s heart. Are we open to that happening with us? For us? To us?

I’ll meet you on the threshing floor.

In Which the Book of Ruth Passes the Bechdel Test

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(A Sermon Essay on Ruth 1)

Only two books in the Tanakh bear women’s names: Ruth and Esther. I was in my thirties before I learned that my maternal grandmother, who I had always known as Maxine, was actually named Esther. But that’s another story for another time. We’re gathered here today to talk about the Book of Ruth.

There are two differing hermeneutical schools weighing in on Ruth; one holds that the book was written, possibly by Samuel, during the time of the monarchy. Using rough estimates and the assumption that while the monarchy technically begins with Saul, it really doesn’t start until the reign of David (although the author of the above link disagrees), that means that Ruth was written sometime between 1000 BCE-922 BCE. This argument holds that the purpose of the Book of Ruth is to show the transformation from barrenness, darkness, despair, and brokenness–set during the time of the shofet–into the fecundity, light, hope, and transformation of the monarchy.

I am not swayed by this scholarship for a few reasons (Hebrew usage; influence of Aramaic upon language structure; narrative components and theological composition), but mainly because the alternate theory makes more sense, at least for me as a pastoral theologian with substantial training in biblical exegesis.

This view, which is masterfully argued by Dr. Pieter Venter from the Department of Old Testament Studies at University of Pretoria, South Africa, holds that early Second Temple literature (that is, written after 515 BCE, when the Second Temple was consecrated) has certain hallmark features, and particularly thematic ones at that. And while this is essential in the development of Judaism, which is what must always be given primacy when considering texts from the Tanakh, it is seminal in the development of Christianity. In fact, one might argue that without Ruth Christianity would not exist.

Bible nerds probably chuckled at the last sentence of the paragraph. Or maybe not. It is a quotidian observation to note that Jesus would not exist without Ruth, as Ruth is the great-grandmother of David, who is listed as one of Jesus’ direct forebears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. (Some Markan scholars, but not me, argue that Davidic lineage is present in the Gospel of Mark as well; but again, that’s for another discussion.) But my joke that’s not really much of a joke is pointing toward something else.

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The Book of Ruth, just like the ministry of Jesus, is about radical inclusivity. Naomi is like a female Job. Calamity has befallen her and she is questioning what she has done to deserve it. Not only has her husband died, but also her sons. In terms of social standing, she is going to fall through the net. She is not of child-bearing age. No one is gonna marry her.  The Levitical laws that seek to protect her–not my type of feminism, but on a historical level we have to acknowledge that the Hebrew law codes did try to provide some manner of cultural protection for women, even if we may find said attempts to be sorely insufficient–are not going to be of use. She encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their homelands, to find some manner of protection or social standing. Naomi is going to return home in bitterness, a fact that she makes plain at the end of the first chapter.

We cannot underestimate what is happening here. Although the Book of Ruth is only four chapters long, it contains one of the longest continuous stories recorded in the Hebrew Bible. And elements of the first chapter will even pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test. Here we have a woman, Ruth, who is a foreigner; in time of chaos and uncertainty, she pledges herself to Naomi in language that is similar to wedding vows. She takes on a new God; she is willing to go to a new land; she will renounce her people and take on a new identity. She forsakes everything that can identify her and protect her.

In many ways, what we see is similar to the covenant renewal ceremony preserved in Joshua 24. But this one is cast in terms of women.

Which is why I introduced you to the prevalent theories regarding when the Book of Ruth was authored; if we go with the latter theory, that is, authorship post-515 BCE, we know that there were ongoing battles regarding what religious observance consisted of. With the destruction of the First Jerusalem Temple (often called Solomon’s Temple), religion began to shift away from being defined by possession of land, the existence of the Temple, and a Davidic king sitting upon the throne. In exile, the religion of the Hebrews morphed into Judaism, a religion of the book. Knowledge and adherence to the Torah, teaching, made one Jewish. The externals of religion must be matched by the internals of faith; circumcised penises matter less than circumcised hearts. With the return of the people under Cyrus the Persian, the most fundamentalist of Jews were living in Jerusalem. They wanted to make the rules. They argued that marriages to foreign spouses made the children illegitimate. A new Temple required around the clock sacrifices, but some argued that rites and rituals were empty if there was not a spirit of the Lord in the place.

And in the midst of that, in the middle of such an argument, about who is in and who is out, comes a story about a Hebrew woman and her Moabite, foreign daughter-in-law. This foreigner, this interloper, this woman sings a song matched only by Hannah and later Mary. She throws down the gauntlet and displays a faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The radical nature of this story cannot escape our minds as we prepare to move to chapter two. We have two women, one who just made marriage-like vows to the other who has returned home only to say, “Y’all best not call me Naomi anymore. My name is Bitter, and you best not get it twisted.” Can you feel their strength? Their defiance? Their willingness to go up against the rules of men if it keeps them out of relationship? With God. With one another. With themselves. And while the rest of the story may bother us (or maybe not), let us remember them as they are now. Standing tall. Chin up. Chest out. Bodies not there for gazing but to be asserted. To announce their presence. Their power is written on the body.

Let us recognize that these two women are badasses.

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The Pessimism Post

Last night, Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) became the first woman to accept the presidential nomination for a major political party. Both my grandmothers were born during the time when women were still unable to vote. Watching the coverage, I thought of them–both Republicans–and their strength. My maternal grandmother watched her father die at the dining room table when she was sixteen, and weeks before her high school graduation she had to quit school to provide for her siblings. She became a maid and spent the rest of her life trying to make sure that the desperation of the Great Depression was not felt by her children. My paternal grandmother, the child of Finnish immigrants, left school after the 8th grade, moved from her farm in Minnesotta to Detroit, where she and my grandfather, also the son of Finnish immigrants, started a family. Grandma did the Sunday New York Times crossword in ink. She could insult you in English and Finnish, but do so with such a smile you’d never know what just happened. And when Hillary spoke of her mother, of her struggle, I melted. I caved. I surrendered. I went from voting against Trump to voting for Hillary.

I lost my Progressive cred last night. I became a mindless idiot crying over words deviously crafted in a DNC laboratory, falling as easy prey for a sadistic war criminal who has left a trail of bodies and destruction in her wake. At least according to my friends on the far Right. And the Left. The far Left. The Left that I have now left. The pessimism is too much for me. It is too crushing, too limiting, too angry, too self-righteous, too absent of nuance. I’m not unware of the drone strikes that terrorize communities around the world, mainly in Muslim-heavy countries. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of our disastrous invasion of Iraq; Syria is teeming with suffering and uncertainty. Our globalism continues to serve the oligarchs who control the means of production and the media that too often fails to inform rather than incite. I’m not unaware of the subtle and not-so-subtle racism of Democratic policies. Our for-profit prison system keeps entire populations locked into a pipeline that’s more dangerous than the  Keystone project. Trans* women are still dying. Black and Brown people are still oppressed and struggling. I’m aware of these and the myriad other deficiencies in the DNC platform. And contrary to what some think, I am not just shrugging my shoulders and waving an American flag certain Republicans think were absent from the DNC and belong only to them. 

But the pessimism is too much. The notion that we are so corrupted that the entire system needs to be blown apart doesn’t resonate with me. I’m not down with the revolution. In fact, I’m with Bono. Fuck the revolution. I’m going to give up caring when people say I am selling out, or believing hype, or being duped, or that I am playing into the hands of a system that is inherently evil.  I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. 

So I’ll say it for the detractors, and they can move on to bigger game. To people who will perhaps find the pessimism more useful to motivate them toward positive action: I drank the Kool-Aid. I surrendered my will. I let the big, bad DNC throw my brain into the machine with extra bleach, and a nice dryer sheet to finish it off. I have let the mistress manipulator tie me into pretzels until I shouted “I’m with her!”

Of course, I did nothing of the kind. And if you are still not convinced to vote for Hillary, that’s fine. It is really not my business. But keep your pessimism to yourself. I have no use for it. I’m about building up, making a difference, trying to forge relationships that are significant and lasting, and to do that with people with whom I may disagree on a lot of things,  but with whom I can work. Serve. Form community. I’m okay with not being pure enough, not being a true revolutionary if it means I can stop feeling so angry and sad. I’m sure this is privilege, or at least it will be labeled so. That’s cool. I really don’t care. 

Well, I’m trying not to care. 

Since converting to Christianity, I’ve gotten really use to people telling me I believe in things that are not true. I’ve learned to smile and nod, and go about following my heart. So with that, I’m with her. 

Ideals, Not Ideology

In my Facebook feed, battles are ongoing. Posts have 50, 60, 70 comments. Threads go in various directions simultaneously. Perhaps it is the diversity of my friend group, but there are no demographical trends one might point to in order to make sense of it all. White friends in their 70’s voice opinions echoed by biracial friends in their 20’s. Libertarians agree with Socialists; articles and blog posts and Twitter screen captures are posted and reposted. There is a lot of talk. A little less communication. And even less confidence as to what will happen in November.

The biggest rows I see revolve around some form of this question: Is refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton the same as voting for Trump? I imagine we all have seen and heard the arguments given on all sides. A vote is simply a vote for the candidate for whom it is cast. Or, my vote is not for Clinton, but rather against Trump. Or, I find them both despicable, so I am voting for a third party candidate or a write-in. We’ve seen the articles arguing that not voting for Clinton places at risk GLBT+, POC, immigrants, Muslims, or other vulnerable groups. We’ve seen articles from queer-identified POC telling Whites to stop saying they are voting for Clinton to protect others. We have seen the arguments about how votes for a third party candidate helps get a fledgling party closer to the 5% threshold needed for public funding during the next cycle. Everyone seems to be discussing suffrage, enfranchisement, civic responsibility, and political philosophy. In one way, that’s awesome. I think it is good that people are engaged and paying attention.

However, there are some just flat-out incorrect suppositions and arguments going on, and not just from Fox News. (See Bill O’The Clown’s defense of slavery.)

We are conflating ideals with ideology. Ideals should motivate us. Ideals can also influence our philosophies. Plato’s concepts of the Forms helped us conceptualize ideals and analyze how culture and sometimes arbitrary decisions influence our definitions of things like beauty and justice. The Book of Job is about many things, but at its basis it is a text about the nature of pure justice. Job has one ideal, God another. Ideals can push us to be more compassionate, more industrious, more hospitable.

But ideology is dangerous. Ideology becomes more important than people. When ideological purity is demanded, we venture into dangerous territory in which lives can be seriously damaged. Ideally, we would have an electoral system that provided us with a cleaner process, parties with a greater range of choices, a spirit of cooperation and a shared sense of citizenship. But we don’t live in an ideal society. We can continue to strive to get closer to the ideal, but the sad fact is that it does not exist now and will not before November 8.

Ideology is what led the GOP to say the number one priority was to make President Obama a one term president. Ideology is what keeps Congress from giving a timely up or down vote on hundreds of judicial nominees. Ideology is what drives us to say that strongly held principles are more important than mitigating or reducing danger to the greatest number of people. Ideology gives us a sense of righteous indignation that others will question our decisions when they are not adequately rooted in reality.

By any reasonable metric, Hillary Clinton is not the same as Donald Trump. Hate the player, hate the game all you want but she is damn good at what she does. We might find it deeply depressing, but the political system is what it is and Hillary Clinton has an encyclopedic understanding of what it takes to run the country. And believe me, on November 9 I will once again pick up my megaphone and start working toward the legislative changes that are important to me. People I love are in prison. People I love are veterans who suffer from PTSD. People I love are drowning in student loan debt, have inadequate salaries and insurance, and worry about being able to carry the tax load for a family home. Yes, I love myself thank you ūüėČ

So we’ve gotta stop saying that we’re gonna eat a shit sandwich either way. Or, what the hell. Go ahead and say it. But I’m here to tell you that consistency and amount makes a huge difference when one is facing a shit sandwich. And you’re never going to convince me to stand in Trump’s line. I’m going to be pretty pissed off if the ideological stances of others forces all of us to strap on our bibs and start shoveling shit into our mouths.

For those of you who are holding onto your principles, I get it. I respect it. Believe me, I’m a devout Christian. Everyday I wake up and try to be like Christ, so that means every single day I fail. Ideals are good. But ideology is not. Especially now. You don’t get to pretend that we are in an ideal situation in which your ideological stance doesn’t have consequences for others. And, frankly, enough of the privilege accusations on this one. Really. Enough. I am very aware of my privilege, and where I’m not I admit that I’m not. But on this one, we are facing a situation in which no one is really safe. It is not my privilege that is asking you to vote for Clinton. It is my intellect and the fact that I’m not eager to be governed by a sociopath.

With Clinton, we will have a much better change of continuing the slow, but steady changes.

Seriously. Do we not remember 2004? Do we not remember crying together in Ohio when the marriage ban passed? Look at where we are less than 15 years later. And a vast majority of that came during the Obama Administration. We have the possibility of great social justice progress, even amidst frustration and moderate push back, with Clinton. That will never, ever happen with Trump.

Hold onto your ideals. Dump the ideology.

Looking for a Job: God’s Nationalism

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I’ve written previously on deciding to move to the Narrative Lectionary, which has included a series on 2 Corinthians and Job. Job is always a tough one; it is a long book, with the most complicated poetry in the Tanakh; there are vast differences in hermeneutical positioning; and it has some unsettling details, such as God and Satan wagering and individual human life seeming not to matter (like how Job’s children are “replaced” at the end with new kids). Job is one of those texts that requires a big commitment from both pastor and congregation if a sermon series is going to work.

There are so many great books and articles about Job that even a half-assed literature review would take months to compile. So, I have given some links above that provide a good starting place for anyone wanting to make a serious go at Jobian theory; personally, I recommend Gustavo Gutierrez‘s seminal work On Job: God-talk and the Suffering of Innocents, which presents the biblical narrative as being the foundation of liberation theology. One of my best memories from early in graduate school–I think I was 24 or so–is of studying the text under the guidance of a Jesuit priest who was instrumental in my coming to Jesus Christ in the wake of my brother’s suicide. Job is a text that I have been wrestling with on and off for about fifteen years. And the recent world events have once again confirmed the contention that God is still speaking through the scriptures.

A little history is necessary, and you’ll forgive me for not providing links to every historical point I make; if anyone questions something or would like some citations, I can provide those in comments or IM. But in the main, being able to make claims about history is why I have accrued these degrees over the years, and seeing that this is a blog and not a dissertation, I’m going to forego the bibliography except to say that this is a great place to start.

If you look at the covenant between God and the people as mediated by Moses, the covenant is not with individuals. It is with a community; a community that will become a theocracy under the leadership of the kings: Saul, David, and Solomon. Scriptures are divided as to the wisdom of a monarchy. Of course, with the death of Solomon in 922 BCE we see a split in the kingdoms, with the Omri and Jehu Dynasties operating up north, and the Davidic line continuing down south. Rival fiefdoms impact subsequent theologies. Nationalism reigns. Then the North falls to the Assyrians around 721 BCE; the South hangs on until the Babylonians destroy the First Jerusalem Temple c.587/6 BCE, which begins the Diaspora, ending the period often known as Classical Judaism.

What faces the people during this time are fundamental questions: Who are we outside of the land, the Temple, and the Davidic line? Who are we when these are taken away? How do we know God? How do we know ourselves? Who are we? The answer that emerges is: We are a People of the Book.

So we have to ask, was it false sense of nationalism that did in the people? Is there anything to suggest that a faulty understanding of community can pollute the individual life? 

Let’s resume the history. The Babylonians are defeated by Cyrus the Persian, who enacts a much more benign and enlightened formed of occupation. Cyrus allows for those in exile to return to their homeland; Cyrus gives them money to build another Temple, and promises religious freedom (pay your taxes; always pay your taxes); but Cyrus reasons that peace will more likely prevail if people are allowed to keep their languages, customs, religions, and traditions. The problem becomes, a lot of people living in exile did not want to return. They have intermarried; converted; have no memories or attachments to Hebrew culture. So those that do return are among the more religious and devout. And in return for his kindness, Cyrus is declared a messiah (anointed one) in Hebrew scripture.

Until this time, individuality didn’t really exist. Certainly not in the way that it exists today. God’s concern was with the survival of the community; and the theology that develops is one in which the community is punished corporately for individual sin. (See, for example, the defeat at Ai as a result of the sin of Achan.) We can see it as a cycle that runs from the Book of Joshua through II Kings. The people turn to other gods; Hashem raises up an enemy; the people cry out, and God takes pity upon them; God raises up a shofet (temporary, charismatic leader or judge) who establishes peace throughout their lifetime; the leader dies, and the cycle repeats.

The human person, therefore, is a microcosm of the macrocosm. How so? Well, what is wrong within our own lives can be explained with the same interpretative lens. Physical or mental disability? Sin. Poverty or poor social standing? Sin. Notice how in the Book of Job, all the comforters essential offer the same advice? “Repent!” And Job remains insistent that he has done no wrong, which we are listener/readers in the story know to be true. God kinda allows God’s self to be pulled into a grotesque wager that has odious consequences for Job and those around him. Job challenges the notion that he deserves punishment because he is without sin, and Job is right.

Generally, I think, it is our instinct to side with Job. We feel his righteous indignation. This God who wagers and seems almost as insecure as a current presidential nominee is not a God with whom I am comfortable being in relationship. Job’s question are our questions. Job’s defiance our defiance. But what if we are being led down the garden path?

Let’s take a step back and really look at what is going on. It is understandable why, but Job is pretty focused on himself. He keeps saying that he does not deserve what is happening to him because he is not a sinner. We can argue all day long about how this can be true, as every person but Jesus (for us Christians) is a sinner, but the narrative is clear: Job is pious in every way. He is God’s pride and joy. So we should take that for what it is meant to be: a statement regarding the relationship between calamity and sin. Maybe the point of the book is not Job’s innocent suffering, but rather it is about our continuing belief that sin and punishment are related. We see the effect, personal disaster or catastrophe, and we assume that it is deserved because of a sinful cause; if we see destruction in our own lives and maintain that we are sinless, we begin to point at others we believe to be deserving of punishment but are left unscathed. This is the foundation of the theodicy question: why do bad things happen to good people. Or, perhaps even more puzzling, why do good things happen to a hate-filled, orange umpaloompa who can’t rub two brain cells together?

Believe me, believe me. It’s puzzling.

What if the Book of Job is about tearing down bad theology? Maybe Job’s piety arises because he believes he is rewarded for it. And maybe the authors of the Job text are setting forth a corrective to theologies that do a great deal to separate people, to make us afraid of one another, that embolden our judgments and mute our compassion. Because if someone deserves what they are getting, are we really motivated to help them in times of need?

In chapter 14, Job cries out that even the cut down tree has a hope of rebirth and resurrection, but the human person does not. The best for which we can hope is Sheol and the soothing darkness of eternal death. A belief in an afterlife and/or bodily or spiritual resurrection has not yet taken root in Judaism at this point; the Book of Job is part of that. Job’s use of imagery is part of a long tradition in Hebrew writings to employ tree metaphors in connection with messianic figures. God will act for the survivial of the corporate body, for the community, for the covenant people. Job demands justice and hope for himself. He argues for the dignity of the individual. And he is criticizing, I think, the nationalism that had overtaken people’s compassion and sense of connectedness.

We will discuss the ending of Job next week, but for right now let us wrestle with this: maybe God promises to stay with communities because we are most fully human when we are in relationship with one another? But God will not support those communities that place their identity into nationalism. And perhaps God is asking us to pull down those structures and systems that keep people out of relationships? Systems that keep people from affirming one another where they are instead of trying to convince them that they deserve their pain. Perhaps when we ask God why there is not justice and equality, God asks us the same thing. Maybe God is saying, I gave you everything you need to understand what is important. What have my prophets said unto you? What outrages have I sublimated out of love for you? Why do you keep hurting each other? Why do you mistake the nation for the community?

We are living at a time in which a politician is promising that he is the only one who can save us. He wants to build walls both literal and metaphorical. He promises that he is our voice. Our redeemer. When Job says, “I know my redeemer lives” we must ask ourselves, what does this mean? If God is our redeemer, how is God operating in our lives? What has God given to use individually that we can contribute to the larger community? What are the fruits of the Spirit that allow us to comprehend the ways in which persons are deemed “others.”

We Christians should be very wary when a person promises to be imbued with the unique ability to save us. Because we kinda already have that covered pretty well. Like, full coverage with zero deductible covered. What comes with that assurance, though, is the responsibility to speak truth to power, to set ourselves against signs and symbols that deny persons their full humanity and dignity. And we should understand that God calls us to be in relationships. We cannot be concerned with ourselves more than we are with others; we are intimately connected. All as part of God’s plan.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.