Posts by Annie Newman

Radically Liberal Christian. Autism/Girl/Pitbull mom. FarmHER. Incurable maker of things.

Jonah 04 – The Price of Grace

But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

A tale of a sibling spat

This chapter reminds me of a time when my youngest sister, Carmen, and I were fighting. I can’t remember about what, but I must have gotten the upper hand in the argument, because Carmen went to complain to our parents. I hovered outside the door to hear if she would malign me, and what they would say. I don’t remember what Mom said, but clearly Carmen didn’t like it and told her to shut up – something we never said to our parents. I waited for Papa to lower the boom. All he did was look up briefly and say tersely, “Don’t talk like that to your mother.” I was so angry! If it had been me or my brother, we would have been in so much trouble! But Carmen, the youngest, only got a brief verbal reprise. Not exactly the vengeance, if you will, I was hoping would be brought to my whining, obtrusive, clearly out-of-line-in-so-many-ways little sister.

To be clear, I love my sister dearly, but I was not her biggest fan at that moment. I was even more mad when I saw she didn’t get punished. I felt much like Jonah did, sitting in a snit up on that hill, acting all holier-than-thou while really doing nothing to improve anybody’s situation. I don’t know why Carmen didn’t get in trouble that day. No one does, actually. None of my other family members remember this incident. So all I can do is conjecture. It’s possible that Papa was just tired, though I doubt it because that sort of disrespectful language was never tolerated in any other instance. So perhaps she was having a hard day and Papa was cutting her some slack. Perhaps I was really in the wrong and had pushed Carmen to the limit in our argument leading up to this little story, and Papa knew it, and wasn’t going to hold it against either of us, because that’s what siblings do sometimes.

Whatever the reason, how much easier would it have been for my parents to come down hard on my sister, yelling and blustering and sending her to her room? And how much of their own frustration would be expended (because I now know just how much frustration you suffer as a parent) if they had then turned their anger towards me for goading my sister into such a state in the first place? They would have been justified in doing so: neither Carmen nor I were behaving very well in the above scenario.

God, the patient parent

It is easy to be angry. It is easy to shout at, to shut out, to punish. And in some cases, all those things are justified – needed, even. But it is so much harder to be patient, to be loving, to be forgiving. Let’s look at this chapter again: By all rights, Nineveh should be destroyed. We don’t get to learn much about what condemned Nineveh in the book of Jonah, but in Nahum (another book devoted to prophesy against Nineveh), we learn that the city “plots evil against the Lord,” that it is a “city of blood, full of lies,” and a place of “endless cruelty.” To sum up, they were bad, really bad. God sending Jonah to warn them is kind of like the divine equivalent of a parent saying “you shape up or so help me…God?” Perhaps that analogy falls apart a little, but you get the main thrust of it. Here’s the twist though: unlike most children (or at least, unlike my children), they listened. Nineveh showed repentance, and God showed mercy. The fact that God spares such a terrible people after one little act of repentance clearly rankles Jonah, who storms off in a huff to sit on a hill and see what will happen to the city, much like an older brother sick of the leeway given to a younger sibling.

God has every right to be angry at Jonah now. Jonah basically back-talks to God (complaining about God’s greatest virtues, compassion and love, in just the height of irony). Then he waits to see if God will change their mind and actually strike Nineveh down, like Jonah thinks should happen. Jonah clearly thinks he knows better than God, and is just waiting for God to get with the picture. The hubris of his thinking is just like that of a teenager, don’t you think? I, at least, remember being thirteen and just knowing that I knew better than my parents. Again, God would have every right to turn Xyr anger against Jonah. Instead, God turns this into a teaching moment with the vine. Yet again, with what must have been accompanied with a deep cosmic sigh, God is patient.

Patience is the price we must pay for Grace. Perhaps it is easier for God to be endlessly patient, tapping into endless grace, being the Almighty and all. For me, it is a daily struggle. How much easier would it be to meet harsh words with more of the same? To yell at the kids every time they make a mistake? To look out for nobody’s needs but my own? I would have the satisfaction of saying exactly what I want to say when I want to say it…but not much else. Eventually, that sort of behavior would push everyone away, and I’d be left with an empty life, devoid of love.

My NIV study notes on this chapter close out with an additional line of scripture from Ezekiel: ” ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.’ ” We see that in Jonah, as God saves literally everyone from beginning to end: the sailors and captain; Nineveh’s people, king, and even livestock; not to mention Jonah himself. Maybe not everybody is worthy of our grace (let alone God’s) as we see fit. But what we think doesn’t matter: God gives us all that grace anyway. And if God can spare a city so full of sin and hate and murder as Nineveh, can’t we spare a little more grace for our neighbor? I think it is our duty to try.

Jonah 03 – Not one, but two second chances

 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Nineveh’s Second Chance: A Metaphor for Climate Change

Let’s start with the second second chance of this chapter: In a rare instance of power listening to prophets before calamity strikes, the Ninevites take Jonah’s message of impending doom to heart and institute a citywide act of repentance. Everyone puts on sackcloth, fasts, and even causes their livestock to fast. God takes notice of their contrition, and has compassion on them.

I think the story of the Ninevites is an excellent metaphor for how we, collectively, should be reacting to climate change. The prophets have been warning us of impending doom for some time now. Warning signs – melting ice caps, wilder hurricane seasons, even migrating trees – have been shown to us as well. What if, like the Ninevites, we actually listened? And not only listened, but did something about it? And what if our politicians listened to us, like the Ninevite king did to his people? What if we instituted an official policy of reducing our footprint on the earth and not just giving lip-service to that idea? Like the king of Nineveh I say, “Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn Xyr fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

Good on you if you bike to work, eat local, and have solar panels on your roof. I really do think that’s great. But to be perfectly frank, our personal actions only account for part of the equation: They help create a culture of eco-awareness. But in order to effect real change, we need to see things done on a national and even global scale, instituting a policy of eco-awareness.

I’ll use an example with my personal eco-bugaboo: food waste. If food waste was a country, it would be third in the list of greenhouse gas emitters after the US and China. If we reduced food waste, we not only would reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted by rotting food, but also the amount of water, land, and other resources used to grow or create something destined to just be thrown away. We can create a culture of combating food waste at home by buying responsibly, making just enough and eating it all, and composting what we don’t or can’t eat (like egg shells or banana peels). But this does nothing to address the institutional food waste of grocery stores, large cafeterias, or the entire prepared food industry. And while our consumer choices certainly can influence how those places view food waste, their participation in reducing food waste remains entirely optional at a time when we need it to be mandatory. A little encouraging aside: The Food Recovery Act tackles food waste, and has already been introduced in Congress. But it has languished in the Health subcommittee since 2017. Now that we have a new administration coming in and a COVID vaccine on the horizon, perhaps this is the time to call your representatives to let them know you want to see this bill passed in the new year, making it policy to reduce food waste.

Back to those solar panels and other potential solutions to climate change: We could make renewable energy a reality. And make plug-in cars ubiquitous. And focus on keeping our food systems as local as possible. And reduce our reliance on plastic packaging. The list goes on. If plug-in cars replaced gas-powered vehicles, and solar/wind/hydro- power replaced coal and fossil fuel plants, we would keep millions of tons of greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere annually. If we focus on (and provide the support for) people to eat local, we reduce the resources needed to distribute said food. If we tax plastic bags their usage (and environmental impact) goes down 40-90%, depending upon the area being surveyed. But in order for any of this to happen we need it to be policy. Culture alone will not do it. Civil rights were not protected until the Civil Rights Act (and there’s still work to be done, but it was a start). Same with the right to vote. Same with child labor laws. Same with the ADA, the protection of endangered species, access to affordable housing, and so on and so forth: Trailblazers worked within a culture of caring and passion, bringing attention to the wrongs of everything from eagles to wheelchair access. But change isn’t fully actualized until it becomes policy.

So once again, with a new administration coming in and COVID (hopefully) becoming less of a concern in 2021, we can all call our representatives to tell them we want action on climate change. Those of us who are able can donate to Citizen’s Climate Lobby, Idle No More, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. We can urge the companies we work for and shop from to do the same thing. We can protest in the streets. Whatever it takes to make action on climate change the dominant policy. With God’s help and good grace, I firmly believe it is never too late for us to start instituting real change.

Jonah’s second chance and God’s never-ending patience

And just who is responsible for leading that change? If a culture of eco-awareness (or any other sort of awareness) isn’t enough, it is easy for us to give up and let ourselves off the hook. And that’s not very different from some of the prophets of the Old Testament. Jonah runs away from his charge to warn Nineveh. Moses, arguably the most important of prophets in the Old Testament, hems and haws and argues and bargains with God at length before going back to Egypt. Jeremiah and Gideon were also reluctant. But God is patient, and listens to all their fuss and bluster – and even lets them run away a bit – before gently insisting on Xyr ways, reminding each of these prophets, “I will be with you.”

I find this reassuring. It is easy to be distracted from what God is calling us to do. We can even convince ourselves that we are doing the right thing in running away. We are not “the right ones” for the job, no one will listen to us, we don’t have the right experience, the time, the money, the influence, and so on. And there are always other important things that need to be done, right? I, for one, am a champion procrasti-cleaner. Because really, how am I to be expected to do anything important when there’s five loads of laundry to be done and there are dishes in the sink and the downstairs hasn’t been swept in a week? And yes, those things need to be done, too, but the house doesn’t have to be perfect before I take a moment to call my representatives, before I work on the employee handbook for a new responsible-farming apprenticeship program we’re forming on the farm, or before I keep speaking my truth over here on my little corner of the internet.

The time is always right, and we are always the right person when it comes to making the world a better, more just, more green, and more sacred space. If there’s one final message I want you to take away this week, it is that we all have our part, however small it may seem, and that we don’t need to go it alone. First and foremost, God is with us, and that alone is a big thing. We might make mistakes along the way (Remember tires-in-the-ocean-to-make-reefs intitiative? Ooof!), but we should keep going. Keep speaking up, keep encouraging others, keep the myriad injustices of this world from being swept out of sight. The more we speak, the more others will see, and the more actions will be taken. Whether it’s racial, environmental, gender, workplace, or some other sort of justice – listen to what God is calling you to do, and then go do it! We always have a second chance to act in God, and we should use it to the fullest potential whenever we come across it.

Jonah 02 – With Gratitude, Always

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Y’all. Jonah is giving thanks from inside a fish. It reminds me of a story my pastor told one time: two park rangers were stuck in a service cabin high on a mountain, stranded by a fierce blizzard. Every night they sat down to a meager meal and one ranger would pray. “What do we have to be thankful for?” the other ranger asked. “God has seen fit to sustain us with this food, and I am grateful,” the praying ranger replied. Finally, the food ran out, yet the ranger continued to pray. “What could you possibly be thankful for, now?” The incredulous ranger asked again. The praying ranger’s reply: “That I still have my appetite!”

Womp, womp. Pastor humor, I know. But I thought it was funny. Regardless of my comedic talent (or lack thereof), it illustrates a point: Both the hungry park ranger and Jonah found reasons to give thanks in less-than-ideal situations. The park ranger didn’t save his gratitude for when he was safe off the mountain, he gave thanks in the middle of the blizzard. Jonah didn’t save his gratitude until he was vomited out onto dry land, he gave thanks from inside the fish.

I’m not saying to be a total Pollyanna, affecting a naive attitude to willfully ignore the hard truths in life that need to be confronted. Through-out my writing you’ll see I’ve done the opposite: calling people to more engagement over and over again. But cultivating a practice of Thanksgiving can help put small problems in perspective, and in turn give us more capacity to focus upon the real problems that need tackling. Things are far from perfect right now: COVID numbers are surging right now, there are real supply chain problems (which I experienced second-hand trying to get quotes for some new farm infrastructure – lumber prices are skyrocketing!), and we still have over a month left of an administration that seems ill-equipped or just indifferent to do something about it. But for now, I am healthy. And my business is healthy enough that I’m looking at buying new fencing and sheds. And even with the pandemic, 2021 looks like it will be another year of growth for the farm. Praise God, praise God, praise God!

It’s hard to be grateful. There are a million little annoyances every day. This is probably one of my shortest entries and I’ve literally been interrupted once to find boots, twice to put on boots, once to take a toddler to the potty, and twice to look at some little piece of nonsense the girls brought in. All I want to do is get this little entry done in one sitting, and quickly! But look – even with some stops and starts, I’m there. So again, praise God. And praise God my children love me and want to be with me and can rely on my for help, because soon they’ll be grown and I’ll miss their smallness. But perhaps give it a try this week, won’t you? When you get annoyed, try to find something to be grateful for in the moment. You may be more blessed than you realize. And praise be to God for that, too.