Leviticus 05 – Learning, Action, and a word on Gender Equality

If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

In the middle of drafting this post I found out Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. It’s a terrible setback for achieving equality in this country. I am grieved and worried by this loss, as I know many of you are. The best way we can honor RBG is to continue to fight for equality on all fronts, something I had been thinking about while writing, but now seems even more salient having lost such a hero and protector of rights.

God’s Grace

God gives us so much grace. In essence, this chapter is a giant “I know you are going to make mistakes, but here are all the way you can make good when you realize you made one.” Notice, in particular, verse four and five:

“or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”

“Guilt” is not accrued when the offending action is taken. Guilt is only accrued when the offending party becomes aware of the offending action. God meets us where we are: asking us to learn first, then act accordingly.

And God knows we have different abilities and capacities. Not everyone is required to bring a lamb as a sin offering, because not everyone can afford it. God gives a sliding scale of atonement. Those who cannot afford a lamb can submit two doves, and those who cannot afford two doves can bring some flour. God again meets us where we are: giving us grace and options before requiring action.

God’s grace is wonderful. But I think, all too often, we rely too much on it. If we are truly living as Christians, it is not enough to admit to our “sin,” and thank God for being so gracious. We need to act, to offer the proverbial sin offering, so to speak. The requirement of this chapter, and truly the model for Christian living, is two-fold: learn, then act. It is not enough to simply learn.

Faithfuls’ Action

Indeed, the opening lines of this chapter focus upon action, calling the faithful to “speak up when they hear a public charge to testify.” Today, we are being called to testify on behalf of our siblings, our country, our very world. As I discussed in my last post, we have become aware of so many unintentional sins. Perhaps you were not aware of just how bad the rate of climate change is. Perhaps you were not aware of structural racism. Perhaps you were not aware of the US (and Canada) violating sovereign land rights of tribes for pipelines and other projects, or of the dire situations in South America that force refugees to our southern border, or of worsening humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, and Afganistan. But now you do know, now we all know, and denial and inaction are now inexcusable.

I know I just gave you a lot of crises – and no one person is going to be able to solve them all, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember, God meets us where we are, and simply asks that we try a little better once we know. Small steps can make a difference. If every American adult donated just $10 more that would be over $2 billion for charities and other causes. If we continue the work-from-home trend started by the pandemic, we could keep literal tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. If even just half of American adults called their representatives once a year that would be one million opinions publicly and officially voiced. If 65% of the voting population turned out (as opposed to the average 55% of the last four presidential elections) we might have very different policies being passed by very different politicians. Again, these are little things, tiny nudges. But they do make a difference.

Focus on Gender Equality in honor of RBG

This week, let’s honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory by remembering the marginalized. RBG was a particular champion of gender equality, so I’m going to focus on that here. I’ll leave you with a list of things that we can all do towards promoting gender equality. Note that none of these require any money, as I want to be sure we all have access to being agents of change:

  • Remember that trans women are women, too. Excluding anyone from discussions (and actions!) about gender equality is counter to the very idea of equality, and definitely not what either RBG or Jesus would do.
  • Men – share more in household chores! I challenge you to do one more thing than you usually do. And to anyone partnered to a man, ask them to do something! Oftentimes they are willing, but they just don’t even know what they don’t know.
  • Think like a mom. The next time you go out to do errands or go to work, I challenge everyone to think about what it would be like to have small children in tow. Is there reserved parking for new and expectant mothers? Are there changing stations in the bathrooms? Are the sidewalks in good repair? This last one makes a huge difference not only to mothers with strollers but also to anyone with mobility challenges. Just another example of how inclusivity works to the benefit of all.
  • Vote for (and hire, and promote) women. Women do not have a proportionate share of power. If we truly want to support the equality of women, we need them in positions of authority where their experience and expertise will help shape policies for future generations. The same goes for just about every minority group.

Fight the good fight, my friends, and let’s be agents of change in God’s name. Now, more than ever, it is important to act upon what we believe in. May God bless and inspire you this week, and I look forward to hearing what you act upon in your lives.

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Leviticus 04 – Do the Best You Can Until You Know Better

27 “‘If any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, when they realize their guilt 28 and the sin they have committed becomes known, they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect. 29 They are to lay their hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Do The Best You Can Until You Know Better

The first thing that came to my mind reading this chapter was one of Maya Angelou’s more famous quotes. You’ve probably heard it: “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” I like to think I’m a pretty smart person: I was 11th out of 400-some in my high school class, and missed graduating college with summa cum laude honors by two hundredths of a point. I’m also prideful and a little bit vain. All this to say, it was personally very embarrassing to realize I was not only participating in but also benefiting from lopsided and harmful phenomena like structural racism, to name just one. How could I, as such a “smart person,” miss something so obvious? How could I have committed such unintentional sins? I didn’t know what structural racism was fifteen years ago. I didn’t know there were anything but binary pronouns five years ago. I didn’t know I was sending plastic microfibers into the watershed every time I washed my yoga pants two years ago. But now I do know, and instead of getting defensive, I’m trying to do better.

America, as a whole, has a lot to atone for – from both intentional and unintentional sins. We are waking up, starting to know better, and now we have to do better. I read an analogy regarding sexist and racist actions. I forget where, but this medium article is the first that popped up in Google when I looked for it and does a good job going into the analogy in depth. In short, though: when one person steps on another’s toe, they remove their foot as soon as their attention is brought to it and apologize. There is no arguing about whether or not the step-ee’s pain is real or what the intentions of the stepper might have been. The stepper might be embarrassed for stepping on the other person’s toe, but the stepper’s feelings do not become the focus of the incident, nor does the stepper claim some first (or equal, or higher) right to the area of ground where the step-ee’s toes are.

Fellow white people: I think this is an especially good analogy to remember whenever you feel yourself getting defensive, or feel the urge to say something along the lines of “but not all white people…” Listen, the people I love most in the world, my husband and my kids, are black. You don’t get a much more intimate look at race relations than that. And even I have to remind myself sometimes that this isn’t about me, personally. And even I get it wrong, sometimes, too. And it’s embarrassing. But again, this isn’t about me. If we remember this metaphor in every arena where we may have unintentionally sinned but now know better, it may help us to actually do better. It’s time to start atoning.

The Parenting Analogy

Atoning is such a loaded word. But I want to go on the record as saying that atonement doesn’t have to be a punishment, it can be a beautiful thing! Let’s get back to our actual Bible reading here. It lays out the proper sin offering for unintentional sins. I’m sure this is a chapter that many have cited making the case against God. What sort of deity gets angry with you for committing a sin without knowing? And then you have to atone for an unintentional sin with an offering? It sounds like you’re being set up to fail, and sounds like a good way to instill paranoia in generations of people.

But remember, God is our good, loving parent. And if you look at the sin offering in that way, it’s just a good parent doing good parenting. There are lots of things my girls do without malice that are still not “right.” Like toddler-sized versions of unintentional sins, if you will. For example, my youngest started plugging her ears during grace at the table. Who knows why she started doing that, but it’s rude, so I corrected her. Now she knows it’s not a thing to do. We’re still working on picking noses, uncovered sneezing, and not wanting to wear a mask in public. My girls do these things out of ignorance, not malice. But their actions can have a real impact on public health, so I’m teaching them not only to know better, but to do better. Collectively, as a country, we are being called to do better on many fronts, from COVID prevention to Black Lives Matter to global warming. We have sinned, even if we didn’t know it. And maybe it wasn’t even us, but our leaders who have sinned. Regardless of blame or intention, we now have been made aware of these myriad of errors, and we must atone.

Additionally, I want to point out God is not angry. Yes, there is lots of talk of “doing something forbidden” and “guilt,” but there is no mention of God’s anger. Much like I’m not angry when my five year old picks her nose. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make her stop, and probably make her go wash her hands. Just like with my girls, this sin offering is part of the learning process.

Finally, I want to point out that the sin offerings described here are practically identical to earlier offerings qualified as “an aroma pleasing to the Lord. This chapter doesn’t use that exact terminology, but I don’t think it’s too far a leap to say that God is well pleased (perhaps even proud of us?) when we recognize our wrongs and correct them. We please God when we make amends because we act as Xyr agents in the world when we do so.

Growing in faith and action

If we stop pointing fingers, saying “it wasn’t us!” or “I’m not like that!” If we stop being defensive and actually buckle down and do the work of atoning, look at what we stand to gain: a healthy planet, a healthy populace, equality among all people, and so much more. These are lofty goals, but the road to all of them starts by knowing better, and doing better. Let’s not let fear or ignorance stand in our way. Growth can be scary and uncomfortable – remember being a teenager? But would you really want to be proverbially stuck at twelve forever? Sure, not having to pay taxes or make dinner every night was nice, but just think of all the things you’d miss out on, stuck as a pre-teen. Let’s grow! Let’s learn! There’s literally nothing to lose, but there is everything to gain.

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Leviticus 03 – Gratitude and Generosity with Fellowship Offerings

“‘If your offering is a fellowship offering, and you offer an animal from the herd, whether male or female, you are to present before the Lord an animal without defect. You are to lay your hand on the head of your offering and slaughter it at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall splash the blood against the sides of the altar. From the fellowship offering you are to bring a food offering to the Lord: the internal organs and all the fat that is connected to them, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which you will remove with the kidneys. Then Aaron’s sons are to burn it on the altar on top of the burnt offering that is lying on the burning wood; it is a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Today’s chapter talks about Fellowship Offerings. Fellowship Offerings are a voluntary act of worship made in gratitude to God, and are also the only burnt offerings that include a communal meal. These offerings, sometimes translated as Peace Offerings, symbolize peace and wholeness between the offerer, the congregation, and God. As it is a recognition of peace and gratitude, as well as communal, I think this might be my favorite offering.

If you didn’t read the chapter, basically it talks about pulling the fat off the animal and dedicating it to God’s altar. There seem to be two schools of thought on why this fat was so important:

Fat as a choice cut

First, that in offering God the fat of the animal, we are offering something of value – a choice cut, if you will. The fat, nowadays all too often ignored, has historically been viewed as one of the best parts of the animal. Loaded with energy, helpful in cognitive function, and easily rendered into shelf-stable products like tallow and lard, fat is also what makes meat flavorful. A fun little side note about why this chapter makes special stipulations for lambs’ tails: there is a breed of sheep common in the Middle East (and thought to be raised by ancient Israelites) that has a particularly large and fatty tail. It is, according to my reading, delectable. I, for one, am a huge fan of oxtail (the fatty, meaty tail of a cow) so have no doubt that’s true. Taken as such, this offering is a symbolic gesture of giving God our best. In gratitude and thanksgiving, worshipers were giving God the choicest cuts, which, at the time, included lambs’ tail.

Fat as a symbolic covering

A second hypothesis to why the fat is so important as to be dedicated to God is that it is a protective covering. To oversimplify a concept about which many, many volumes have been written: Much of Levitical law has to do with making sure that holiness and uncleanliness don’t cross-contaminate. Often, things were ritually cleansed. But just as often, they were ritually covered, thereby protecting the mundane from the divine and vice versa. The fat that covers an animal’s inner organs is a protective covering, and therefore highly symbolic of the many layers of covering and separation that Levitical priests were responsible for maintaining. (I have to thank the guys over at Almost Heretical for introducing me to this idea – if you want to explore it further you can listen to episodes 84-88. Also, Mary Douglas may have been the first to explore this idea from an anthropological standpoint, and I read her 1993 paper “Atonement in Leviticus” with great interest – available on JSTOR.).

Jesus as fulfillment of Levitical Law

In perhaps the most important blog entry I’ve written so far, I discuss how the faith of Jesus Christ (as opposed to faith in Jesus Christ) allowed his blood to become the ritual covering and purification that we needed to be in fellowship with God all the time. Thus, Jesus didn’t render Levitical law obsolete. Rather, he fulfilled it by fully and completely atoning for our sins and fully and completely cleansing and anointing the world. Jesus is the choicest cut of humanity, if you will, and his blood – like the fat of fellowship offerings before him – ritualistically covers our mundanity so we may commune with the divine.

Generosity and Gratitude

Luke 12:48 reads “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” And through Jesus, we have been given everything. To be in fellowship with God is a joyous thing, but it is also a responsibility. Nowadays that doesn’t mean ritually burning intestinal fat from a sheep’s stomach, but we can still learn from this chapter, recognizing it as a metaphor for doing good work in God’s name. When we give – whether to the church, or an organization, or a friend – we need to do it freely and in good faith. When we receive, let us be truly thankful. And let us continue to look for ways to keep giving and keep being thankful.

Being generous and thankful is harder said than done, especially right now with a global pandemic, contentious political season, and ongoing denial of human rights for everyone from Syrian refugees to Black Americans. Just yesterday I told my husband that I am really afraid – I truly believe that the democratic USA might not survive the next four years. Fear is normal, and necessary. But it does not negate our need to be generous and thankful. In fact, being generous and thankful right now is probably of the utmost importance. Joy can be an act of defiance in and of itself. It is our responsibility, as Christians, to spread that joy. We must exercise the virtues of generosity and gratitude because it is exactly what the world needs more of, in the face of fear.

Once more I want to reiterate the fact that God made this special fellowship offering so all worshipers could have communion with God. The meat is shared between the altar, the priests, and the worshipers. It is an invitation from God to be with Xyr in celebration and gratitude. It is up to us to accept that invitation. Now that we are fully covered in Jesus’ blood, we are able to do so all the time. We won’t always live up to the standards set for us, but that’s the great thing about Jesus: we get to keep trying. So try with me, won’t you? Let us be generous and grateful in the world, counteracting fear with joy. Let us continue to bring God our best, in good faith and in loving fellowship.

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