Unscheduled Break

I decided to take a little time off to do some research into what I’m going to read for Advent, looking ahead at 2021, and doing a bunch of unrelated projects (including Halloween costumes that got out of control and illustrating my children’s book that follows an Autistic girl’s love of fans, just like my five year old).

If you haven’t joined yet, consider becoming a Patron, where I’ll be posting progress thoughts during my public leave of absence. Today’s post on Patreon was a quick compare and contrast of three of Paul’s writings: Romans, Titus, and Philemon.

Stay safe, be well, and God bless you. I’ll be back soon!

Psalm 137 – Columbus Day?

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

I started drafting this post for Thanksgiving last year, and I don’t remember what got in the way of my posting it.  But tomorrow is Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day – yes, both are listed on my Apple Calendar. It is the official kick-off of the country suddenly remembering its First Peoples for a few weeks, so some words seem in order.

It’s a bleak passage to chose, as I originally did, for a holiday where we are supposed to focus on the good things in our life.  But Thanksgiving, and indeed this time of year in general, is a complicated time in our house.  We all love eating, and being with family, and sometimes even getting a day off of farm work. But Chris (and my girls) are Native American.  Chris is a registered member of the Piscataway tribe of Maryland.  Thanksgiving is one of the best examples of white-washed cultural appropriation and re-writing history.  The story I learned as a young child was: the Pilgrims came to America, were hungry and didn’t know how to farm this strange new land, so the Indians came and taught them how to plant corn and then at the end of the season they all sat down and had a big feast together and everyone lived happily ever after.

So. Not. True.  Just as their tormentors demanded songs of joy from the Israelites, America at large demands a minstrel-like performance from Native culture while ignoring its pain.  Sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins – not to mention the thousands of colleges and highschools – used or continue to use racist and reductive imagery and terms as mascots, flattening and cheapening Native culture.  We’ve turned culturally significant regalia into cheap Halloween costumes.  A quick search on Amazon for “Indian Costume for Women” comes back with pages of options, almost all of them over-sexualized Pocahontas references that have nothing to do with the varied dress worn by native women through the centuries. We enjoy the fruits of this land – turkey and corn, for sure but also tomatoes, sugar cane, and so much else – while minimalizing it’s first stewards.

And the true history of America’s relationship with its original inhabitants just gets worse from there.  My own father-in-law went to an Indian Boarding School.  Indian Boarding Schools were created to forcibly assimilate Native youth into White culture.  These children were taken from their families against their (and their families’) will, forced to convert to Christianity, and suffered malnourishment and abuse so bad that these schools had graveyards on-site to receive the number of dead children they generated.  As a reminder, this isn’t stale history hundreds of years old, people who are still living suffered through this!

These are just some of the reasons why, when my youngest came home from pre-school last year singing “Ten Little Indians,” we got upset.  Some people may roll their eyes and think we’re being overly sensitive, that it’s “just a song.”  But that song reduces my daughters and indeed, all Native peoples, into a nursery rhyme character no more real than Bo Peep or Mother Goose.  Not to mention that this “harmless nursery rhyme” has racist ties to minstrel shows where the actors played at massacring Indians, or where the words were changed to “One little, two little, three little n***er babies…).  So yes, I do find it as overtly racist as the Washington Football Team’s recently retired name (and the handful of high school and college teams still using names like Redmen and Orangemen), and it’s definitely contributing to the erasing, flattening, and denying Native cultures.

My girls (and all native youth) are being bombarded with lessons – both overt and subliminal – that their heritage is nothing more than a fairy tale for white people.  That “Indians” – a term which in and of itself reduces the myriad of peoples and nations it refers to – were a mystical race of people waiting here to guide the true, European inheritors of this land, a people that faded away to almost nothing-ness in a passive manner, again allowing the New America to grow westward.  At best, mainstream culture overshadows – and at worst flat out ignores – the genocidal history of this country we have yet to come to terms with and make amends for.  I didn’t learn about the Trail of Tears until I was in high school.  I didn’t learn about forcible adoptions of Native children until I was in my late twenties. I didn’t learn about the systematic, state-sanctioned genocide of California Indians that happened in the late 19th century, where it is estimated over 9,000 Natives died, many of whom were women and children, until I was in my thirties. I don’t want our children to continue the inexcusable ignorance in which I (as I’m sure many of you) were raised. 

As an aside, there are almost 6,000 missing Native women and girls right now.  Sadly, many of them are presumed dead.  And that’s just the number that’s been reported, the actual figure is estimated to be much higher.  I share this fact to point out that racism and aggression towards America’s Indigenous people is not just a sad historical relic, but a very real fact of today’s society.

Native Americans are neither ancient history nor romantic fairy-tale.  They are real people, they are my family.  Their land has been turned into a foreign land, one where they have been forced to forget their own proverbial Jerusalem, peoples and nations torn down to their very foundations and below.

I’m not saying don’t enjoy Thanksgiving.  Anything that encourages us to be grateful and spend time with family has to have some good in it.  But let’s not ignore the very troubling roots of this holiday.  And let’s not exacerbate the problem.  There are plenty of decorations we can use without relying upon paper cut-outs of “Indians” in our school windows.  We don’t need to scare our kindergarteners with tales of genocide, but let’s not pretend that Wompanoags and Separatists (for those are much more accurate terms than “Indian” and “Pilgrim”) were BFF’s.  

If you feel so moved – and I hope you do – perhaps work with your school to design an age-appropriate, culturally appropriate Thanksgiving curriculum. There’s still time to talk to your childrens’ teachers to make sure such a curriculum is in place. Resources like NMAI and Oyate are great places to start if you’re looking to build a curriculum, too. Also, this article from NEA gives a great overview for how to design a curriculum, especially for younger students. Finally, if you want to start with some books to read with your young children, the ones that our family has read and enjoyed are When We Were Alone by David Robertson, Wild Berries by Julie Flett, and We Are Grateful by Traci Sorell. All of these touch upon the idea of gratitude, and reflect Native cultures in a respectful and relevant way. All three had an Indigenous individual write or illustrate. There are probably many more, but these are the ones I’ve read and can recommend.

As Christians, it is our duty to fight for the justice and equality of everyone. This fight is part of my family, but we need everyone we can get. The first step of joining in is knowledge. I’ve outlined how you can help better inform your children, above. If you want to familiarize yourself with some of the battles I’ve been watching, you can read My response to events at the 2019 Indigenous People’s March, my first mention of the Wet’suwet’en Land Protectors when discussing Job 16, and my two-part entry entitled “Reconciliation is Dead.” Of course, my husband is much more first-hand source and you can read his thoughts on some of his Medium articles. Robin Kimmerer (author of Braiding Sweetgrass) seems to be everybody’s go-to Native author, but I’d also like to suggest Kaitlin Curtice, both her books are near the top of my to-read list. If you have Native authors that you have learned from, I would love to hear about them! Drop a comment below so we can all share. Let’s vow to do better by this land’s first inhabitants. In doing so, we will all be better for it. I promise.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo. Thank you!

Leviticus 07 – God’s Constant Desire for Communion

“‘These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy: The guilt offering is to be slaughtered in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered, and its blood is to be splashed against the sides of the altar. All its fat shall be offered: the fat tail and the fat that covers the internal organs, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which is to be removed with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering presented to the Lord. It is a guilt offering. Any male in a priest’s family may eat it, but it must be eaten in the sanctuary area; it is most holy. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Forbidden Fat, Forbidden Blood

Let’s start with a word about the latter half of the chapter, where the blood and fat of the animal are yet again expressly forbidden. Actually, it’s not much of a word, but more of a pointing you in a direction of where I and others have talked at more length about this specific restriction. First, the work of Mary Douglas informed most of my thinking of fat as a metaphorical covering: a protective barrier between mundane humanity and the dangerously powerful divinity of God. You would not want to consume something with that much symbolism, that much power, but rather, dedicate it to God. You can read more about that in my post on Leviticus 03. As to the special sanctity of blood, I wrote about that while discussing Romans 03, and have to once more give a shout-out to Almost Heretical for informing these ideas.

7:1 “which is most holy”

I want to spend today talking about the first part of the chapter, specifically verses 7:1 and 7:15, because they truly emphasize God’s desire to be reconciled to us and in communion with us.

7:1 reads “These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy:” (emphasis my own). Let’s refresh our memories: The guilt offering is made after someone intentionally commits a sin or a crime. This is slightly different than the sin offering, which seems to apply mostly when someone sins unintentionally. There is some mention of unintentional sins in stipulations regarding the guilt offering, but by and large it applies to: restoring property that has been stolen or extorted (see 6:4-5), breaking faith with a community member (6:1-3), or providing restitution for holy articles that have somehow been carelessly treated (5:16).

The guilt offering is being made by someone who has committed the gravest of errors: an intentional sin against God, and now is looking to make right. Whoever is offering a guilt offering has broken a divine covenant, violated a divine agreement, and, quite likely, is in danger of execution: Nadab and Abihu presented the wrong fire to God (in violation of their contracts as priests) and were literally burned to death, as just one example of such violations from here in Leviticus.

But look what we are told: this offering, the offering that restores said sinner to God, that restores them to life, is the most holy offering. The thanksgiving and fellowship offerings, that thank God for Xyr gifts to us, are not the most holy. The sin offering, which is, in comparison to the guilt offering, just a little expression of mea culpa, is not the most holy. No, the offering that restores a sinner to God is the most holy. Of course it is nice to be thanked for your gifts, or apologized to if someone steps on your toe, but what is really soul-healing is to have someone who has wronged you offer a heartfelt apology (and restitution). And we see that reflected in the fact that the guilt offering is the most holy of all the offerings. God leaves that doorway to forgiveness open for us, even here in the book of rules that modern Christians like to deride so often. The guilt offering is the most holy, because it restores our communion with God.

7:15 “leave none of it till morning”

7:15 falls in the Fellowship Offering Recap section. It reads, “The meat of his fellowship offering of thanksgiving must be eaten on the day it is offered; he must leave none of it till morning.” Now, certainly this is partially a practical consideration: in an era without refrigeration, meat only lasts so long. But I’m here to tell you, it can last til morning. Maybe I’m a lazy housewife, but I often leave a chili or roast on the stove overnight and just reheat it at lunch the next day. No one has gotten food poisoning yet. So that practical consideration only goes so far.

I think it again shows God’s eagerness to be in communion with us. When you are presented with a gift, who wants to wait to open it? Waiting to open your gift is the hardest part of Christmas as little kid, right? Well, God, being in charge, can say “no waiting on these thank you gifts, we’re going to enjoy them right now!” When we come bearing gifts and thanks to God, God receives them graciously and effusively, because God enjoys being in communion with Xyr creation.

God delights in you

“The Church,” however you conceive that to be historically or institutionally, has done a good job of making people feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness. The Church as done a good job of hiding God’s joy in us and God’s desire to be with us. The church would often have you believing that you are scum, and nothing you could do would bring pleasure to God, that we can only bring God anger and sorrow and then repent in whatever pathetic way possible in the hopes that we won’t be thrown into hell. I will agree with them on one thing: that our actions can bring God sorrow, and probably anger, too. When we turn against each other, when we abuse God’s creation, even when we fail to take joy in what is given to us (take a look at Ecclesiastes to see how God wants us to be joyful) – that is an affront to God.

But I hope that these two verses discussed today help highlight exactly how much God loves us, and loves being with us. When we recognize the error of our ways and turn to God (and whomever else necessary) and say sorry, and work to do better, we are restored in God’s eyes, and God is delighted. When we say “thank you” for the gifts God has given us, God is there to hear it, and is delighted.

One last thing I want to point out: there are no stipulations on who can bring a guilt offering. You do not have to be white, rich, straight, employed, sober, college-educated, skinny, and with all your shit together. No matter what anyone else tells you, you are not an irredeemable sinner. You may perhaps need to make a proverbial guilt offering or two…or maybe you just need to say thank you more. Or maybe you’ve already done all of that. (Or maybe those things need to be said and done to you by some offending party.) Whatever the case, God loves you, and loves when you turn to Xyr. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. One more time, in case it wasn’t clear: God loves you. Thanks be to God.

If you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog so you don’t miss what’s next.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  Please also consider supporting the blog through Patreon or Venmo.  Donations tagged #dontcallthepolice will be specifically earmarked for printing up hardcopy resources that give people in my community alternative numbers to 911 for everything from domestic and child abuse to suicide prevention to animal control. Thank you!