Posts by Annie Newman

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

Jonah 01 – Contrasts in Caring

Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.” They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”

He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”

10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)

11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”

12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

A (re)introduction to the Minor Prophets

The twelve books at the end of the Old Testament are called The Book of the Twelve, or the Minor Prophets. They are shorter in length than the preceding prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and hence are called “minor” for that reason. I like reading them during Advent (I read Hosea last year and Malachi the year before that) because Advent is a time when we anticipate the return of Jesus, both as a wondrous baby and glorious king. Both events were alluded to by these prophets, and the greater truths evident in the layered history surrounding both Old Testament events and contemporary times continue to make these writings relevant.

An Introduction to Jonah

Jonah getting swallowed by the whale is one of the first Bible stories taught in Sunday School. But there’s a whole second half of the story that I, at least, didn’t remember learning as a child. It’s unique in the Minor Prophets because it focuses upon one linear narrative in Jonah’s life. This linearity is probably one of the reasons it lends itself to Sunday School lessons (along with giant fish and storms and all that cool stuff).

Jonah was written after Israel had regained some of their power and autonomy from Damascus in the early 8th century BC. According to my NIV text notes, Israel had become complacent and vain regarding their special status with God. Prophets like Jonah, Hosea and Amos were sent to warn them out of their spoilt and jealous attitudes. God’s concern for not only Israel, but also the Gentiles, foreshadows Jesus’ arrival and mission. Again, according to my text notes, the book of Jonah “depicts the larger scope of God’s purpose for Israel: that she might rediscover the truth of Xyr concern for the whole creation and that she might better understand her own role in carrying out that concern.” Let me just drive that fact home for a minute: Throughout the Old Testament and the New, God calls first Israel then the followers of Jesus to be priests to the whole world. Their status is special, but not special to the exclusion of everyone else. Instead, that special status is meant as a responsibility to the entire world, a responsibility to be God’s agents on Earth – spreading love and justice and peace to all of Earth’s inhabitants.

Contrasts in Caring

Chapter One of Jonah finds him receiving his charge from God to go and prophesy at Nineveh, a city of Gentiles and enemy of Israel. Jonah flees from this duty; angry, supposedly (as we find out later in the text), that God would send him to warn such a people. He obtains passage on a ship, which is hit by an outrageous storm that is only calmed after Jonah gets thrown overboard by the crew. God takes pity upon Jonah and sends a “great fish” to swallow up Jonah and carry him through the sea. Every step of the way, we see others’ concern for their fellow man, a stark contrast to Jonah’s own callousness.

Take, for example, the captain. He seeks out Jonah, the only man aboard who is not fervently praying through the storm. Side note – I’m wondering if the “deep sleep” that is described in verse five isn’t some sort of depressive state brought on by guilt. Having suffered depression I know how it can cause you to be sleepy and overwhelmed even at the most inopportune times. But back to that captain: his concern is for his crew and the passengers of his ship. “Get up and call on your god!” the captain commands Jonah, “Maybe he will notice us, and we will not perish.”

The relationship between the crew and Jonah is a particularly interesting and educational one. Even after the crew finds out that Jonah is the one who has brought the storm upon the ship, and that Jonah’s god is a god of ultimate divinity, they do not immediately throw him overboard. “Instead,” v. 13 tells us, “the men did their best to row back to land.” You see, familiarity on both sides had instilled a mutual fondness. Jonah offers himself up as a solution. “Throw me into the sea,” he says. Isn’t it interesting that this is a pagan crew, praying to all manner of gods, yet Jonah wants to save them? And isn’t it interesting that they have their salvation right in front of them, yet are reluctant to take it because it means forsaking someone they have come to know personally? I think if more of us reached out to get to know those who are different from us, much as Jonah was forced to do by the proximity of Iron Age sea travel, the more mutual support we would see across all aspects of community. But I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Finally, even God shows concern for Jonah, Xyr wayward prophet, despite having every reason to be mad at him. Instead of drowning in the deep, Jonah is swallowed up by a great fish and carried along in relative (though probably very stinky and dark) safety. Jonah, someone who has forsaken God, is saved by God through no merit of his own but God’s own great love and divine plan.

God is Love

The takeaway? God is patient, God is kind. God sees past religious beliefs, cultural differences, and even personal shortcomings. God acts through the kindness of many different people, and is working through even the recalcitrant among us, like Jonah. God is calling upon us, all of us, to reach out to our neighbor, to care for our community. Because above all, God is love, and God wants to see us foster that love throughout the world. What a wonderful thought for the beginning of Advent, wouldn’t you agree?

Psalm 81 – Be Safe This Thanksgiving

13 “If my people would only listen to me,
    if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
    and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
    and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
    with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

This Psalm has so many parallels to todays’ realities, it’s uncanny. First, it takes place at a festival, most likely the Feast of the Tabernacles. Like Thanksgiving, the Feast of the Tabernacles (also called Sukkot) occurs in Autumn, during the harvest-time. It also involves a lot of food, celebrating, and getting together.

Second, many of the words uttered by the “unknown voice” in this Psalm could be uttered from any epidemiologist who warned about the pandemic, if you take out the God language. For example, vv. 13 and 14 would sound something like this: “If only the people would listen, if they would only follow directives. How quickly we could subdue this virus! How quickly we could prove naysayers wrong!”

Finally, and most importantly, the warning against false gods in vv. 8-9. “Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—if you would only listen to me, Israel!  You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not worship any god other than me.” The idea of foreign gods has been on my mind a lot as I listen to travel and infection rate predictions for the holiday weekend. No one (that I know of) is still praying to Molech or Baal, but other “foreign gods,” gods that take us away from the one true God of love, have become much more insidious. How much do we follow Selfishness, Greed, Exceptionalism, and Exclusion? These have become our gods.

Collectively, we allow Selfishness to govern us when we decide to not take precautions during Covid, because it would inconvenience us. Collectively, we allow Greed to govern us when we hoard PPE, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Collectively, we let Exceptionalism govern us when we think, “but it won’t happen to me.” Collectively, we allow Exclusion to govern us when we refuse to share information, such as vaccine research, and resources, such as more liberal PTO or stimulus checks that mean something. Selfishness, Greed, and all the rest do not have one single altar we can destroy, one high place we can decry, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful, and in following them we have fallen away from God.

I wrote a few weeks ago about our own Thanksgiving’s continually racist traditions, so I’m not going to rehash that right now. Today, all I want to do is urge you, beg you, really, to be safe and prudent this holiday season. I know it’s hard. It is so, so hard. And I’m not trying to shame the people who have to support their family, send their kids to daycare in order to do so, or go on essential travel. But so much of what I see happening out there isn’t that. To make it worse, it isn’t done carefully. I find it disturbing that, despite infection rates skyrocketing past 150,000 new cases per day, there are still large, unmasked gatherings happening. Take, for example, the Million MAGA March, or Polyface Farm’s 300 person mask-less pop-up event, which in the last paragraph of the event description categorically denies the CDC, accepted contagion theories, and basic protective measures.

So please, remember that we are all children of God. God loves each and every one of us, and therefore we should love each other, too. One of the best ways we can do that right now is by keeping each other safe and healthy. Perhaps you won’t get sick, but in moving across the country you could bring one community’s infection back home to your own, where it will kill someone’s grandmother, someone’s partner, someone’s child. The time for festivals, gatherings, and celebration will come again, but only if we are patient and restrained now.

1 Kings 2: A Call to Bridge Building (For Some)

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.

“I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, act like a man, and observe what the Lord your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go and that the Lord may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a successor on the throne of Israel.’ (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Let’s stick with Kings this week, and talk about the divide I’ve seen between people calling for reaching out to Trump supporters and people declaring they are done, and not to expect anything but a cold shoulder. At the risk of sounding completely noncommittal, I think both are completely valid decisions, and I will discuss why, after we review what, exactly, is in today’s chapter.

A three-fold example of justice

I was ruminating upon this thought divide while sitting with 1 Kings. As I mentioned last week, Kings is basically one long story of regime change, and can offer us much wisdom when it comes to our own election-years. The chapter we discuss today involves the passing of the crown from David to Solomon. In particular, David gives his final orders to his son Solomon, and the rest of the chapter follows Solomon doling out the judgment for which David called.

It’s an elegant chapter, in its three-fold example of justice. Solomon has to show discretion in deciding how to deal with three problematic individuals. First, Solomon’s conniving older brother, Adonijah, tries to undermine Solomon by requesting one of David’s last consorts, which, according to my NIV study notes, was a blatant power grab. Allowing Adonijah to go unpunished could lead to insurrection, and a firm and swift judgement was needed.

Second comes Joab. He was a thorn in David’s side for much of his reign: a rogue military man who was always for David, but acted out of turn and against David’s wishes on multiple occasions. Joab enjoyed David’s (begrudging) protection, but Solomon had no further reason to continue that protection, and thus removed a potentially problematic officer from his regime. Disposing of Joab reduced the threat of military shenanigans, further securing Solomon’s throne, while also showing a long memory and attention to detail: This is a king who is sharp, he will not let anything – small or large, old or new – escape his notice.

Finally, Solomon shows restraint with Shimei. Shimei basically picked the wrong side in the fight between Absalom and David, and then repented of his acts. David did not punish him at the time of his crime, but clearly had it on his conscious for some time. “You are a man of wisdom,” David says to Solomon in v. 9, “You wil know what to do with him.” Solomon tries mercy, first, basically putting Shimei on a travel restriction, allowing him to remain in Jerusalem – and Jerusalem only. But Shimei ends up leaving Jerusalem to collect runaway slaves, thus violating his agreement with Solomon, and opening the door for a legal execution.

As a small but important foible to all these disposals, Abiathar, a supporter of Adonijah, is simply banished in deference to his previous good service in carrying the ark. Allowing Abiathar to go into banishment showed restraint and kindness while still being firm.

To build a bridge…

Now, killing people is the opposite of bridge building, so let me share with you why it reminded me of contemporary times: Solomon showed discretion and subtlety in handling each of these delicate situations in a tenuous time of regime change, using the right tools and the right people for each job. It’s something our leaders could learn from, but also something we can learn from, as well. Like Solomon, we need to clearly define our own boundaries, fully understand our own strengths, and look outwards beyond ourselves to see what is for the good of our larger communities in how we act.

Or not to build a bridge…

For many, that action may be no action at all, when it comes to conciliatory gestures. If you are confused or frustrated by the anger still coming from some liberal camps, consider this: Trump’s hateful rhetoric in and of itself is enough to be exhausting. But beyond that, he has actively infringed upon the rights of many. There are still kids in cages at the border, as well as a humanitarian crisis in Syria the US has all but washed its hands of. Trump has actively rolled back LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies in HUD, the Department of Education, and elsewhere, directly impacting thousands of individuals’ ability to access healthcare, housing, and education. Finally, he has seriously jeopardized the health and safety of the entire country through his downplaying of the pandemic. Don’t believe me? Ask literally the whole world. The USA’s skyrocketing infection rate is why you and every other traveling American are currently blocked from entering so many countries.

So no, a vote for Trump is not simply a difference in opinion vis-à-vis tax income vs. investment tax rates or how much of a role the federal government should take in supplying rural broadband connections. A vote for Trump, no matter how it was “meant,” is a de facto vote for real and active discrimination against marginalized people of the country and, quite frankly, the entire world. Dismantling the damage done by the dominant policies and attitudes of the past four years is going to take a lot more than a single election of a single Democratic president, so some people are going to keep fighting, hard. And some people are exhausted thinking about that uphill battle. Everyone is different, and this is just a brief overview of a very complicated issue…but I hope that it at least gives readers a frame of conference that may have otherwise been lacking.

Don’t start building bridges if…

Are you exhausted? Let’s pause right here and do a quick self-evaluation. Because if you are exhausted, pushing yourself is going to do more harm than good. Here’s some warning signs that you may need to put yourself on pause:

  • Outsized reactions: Are you crying more? Are you startling easier? Getting angry quicker? All of these are signs of emotional burnout, compassion fatigue, and stress; and are flashing red lights that you need to get some rest.
  • Trouble focusing or remaining objective: If you feel like you’re walking around in a fog, forgetting things, having trouble problem solving or getting emotional over little problems, you may be suffering from fatigue – emotional or physical.
  • Physical symptoms: Stress and exhaustion cause physical symptoms, too. These can include headaches, back pain, nausea and other gut issues, nervous tics or restless arms/legs (both can be caused by an overproduction of adrenaline), and hair loss, to name a few.
  • The big red flags: Depression, emotional numbness, loss of purpose, suicidal thoughts. If you’re experiencing any of these you definitely need to seek help.

It’s normal for everyone to experience any of these symptoms from time to time, but if you were nodding along to multiple symptoms on this list, I’m going to tell you to stop reading right here and go take a bubble bath with your choice of chamomile tea or red wine. Come on back when you feel a little better. Seriously, go.

But back to building those bridges…

So, if you’re not off taking that bubble bath and still interested in building bridges, congratulations, you’ve already taken the first step in exercising your discretion a là King Solomon. Actually, everyone discussed here so far has shown that discretion: those who have already stepped back from conciliatory discussions, those who are newly recognizing their exhaustion and taking care of themselves, and those recognizing they still have the energy to act as God’s good agents. Now, where do we go from here?

  • Pick your battles. Just because you’re committed to repairing the broken trust of this country doesn’t mean you need to take on everything and everybody. You still have the right to walk away from an argument that is getting out of control at any time.
  • Pick a focus. What makes you passionate? There’s no right answer, and you don’t have to feel guilty about picking one thing over the other. All causes, from Black Lives Matter to disability access to immigration reform, need champions.
  • Play to your strengths. I highly recommend taking a skills assessment. There’s plenty online, the one I found particularly helpful, as it was faith based, was the Spiritual Gifts Assessment from the United Methodist Church. I scored highest in Interpretation, and it’s one reason why I write this blog. I’m good at explaining things, and the more I explain how God’s unconditional love is evident throughout the entire the Bible, the more I hope that unconditional love will spread in the world. Other people are good at organizing, others at protesting. Even less “godly” skillsets like lobbying or litigation are just as important in achieving a just and good world. I’ll also mention there’s lots of ways to get involved without actually speaking, let alone arguing, because direct confrontation is definitely not for everybody.

It can be easy to forget this in a time of quarantine and pandemic, but I want to leave you with this thought: We are not alone. We do not have to solve all the world’s problems by ourselves. Look at all the teamwork and delegation that happens in this single chapter about one of the world’s greatest kings: David passed his crown (and attending business) to Solomon. Solomon listened to his mother’s council and requests (though I will admit, in this case, she was being manipulated and Solomon saw through it. But she does council him wisely in other chapters). Solomon leaned heavily on Benaiah in executing justice. He appointed Zadok the priesthood vacated by Abiathar. In short, creating the world we want to see is a team effort, and one that will have constantly changing roles. Perhaps now is your time to rest, perhaps now is your time to step up to the plate. It is going to take the wisdom of Solomon to find our way forward, but we have each other to lean upon, and God to guide us forward. With those odds, how could we not, in the long run, make things better?