Ruth 02 – Lessons in Allyship from the Pride Community

19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”

Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.

20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Boaz in the Ruth Story

Oh hey Pride Month, I still see you over there, behind the global pandemic and long-overdue nationwide anger over racism. Today, we’re going to pay a little attention to you. Let’s draw analogies between the greater LGBTQ+ community and Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer who saved Ruth and Naomi from poverty and lives as outcasts, because both have lessons to teach the rest of us in how to be a good ally.

First to brush up on the story of Ruth: Ruth was not an Israelite, she was a Moabite who married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. Now, not only did Ruth’s husband die, but her brother-in-law and father-in-law died, leaving her, her sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, Naomi, destitute. Naomi decides to return to her ancestral lands to see if she can rely upon her community for kindness in her time of need, and Ruth follows her (we can discuss if Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was romantic or not another time, I promise, but that’s not for today’s post). They arrive in Bethlehem, and Ruth sets about gleaning (gathering what is left behind by the harvesters) so she and Naomi won’t go hungry. She catches the eye of Boaz, who provides her successively with: protection in the field, additional food, a promise of marriage, and the legacy of her deceased husband’s name.

You could make the case for Boaz’s interest in Ruth was a calculated one: there was land at stake in marrying her. Perhaps that early kindness is an effort to woo her, and throwing Ruth and Naomi in the land deal at the last minute may have been an effort to deter the heir apparent, but even so, nothing was guaranteed to Boaz. And I’m sure Boaz appreciated a young, possibly beautiful woman becoming his wife. But more than anything Boaz was doing what was right because it was right to help these two women, not what was right because it meant sleeping with Ruth. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth before she shows any interest in coming under his matrimonial protection, because kindness to these two women was important in and of itself. Uplifting these two women meant uplifting and strengthening the larger community, that he gains personally from it (in the form of land and heirs) is the just and Biblical happy-ending for our hero.

Double Shout Out to Pride

This brings me to my double Pride shout out: for their being awesome allies in the fight against COVID and in the most recent Black Lives Matter movement. Boaz did what was right with no expectation of fanfare but also while calling the community to witness (which he does when he convenes the elders in chapter four), and that is also what the Pride community has done in both its handling of COVID and Black Lives Matter.

There was no anger in the fact that Pride events had to be canceled due to COVID, instead the organizers took active steps in protection: The NYC Pride Parade and associated in-person events were canceled all the way back in April. This is a big deal, y’all: last year saw record attendance at nationwide Pride events, and this year is the 50th anniversary of the first pride march (the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which the 1970 march commemorated, was, of course, last year). Pride organizers and attendees would have every right to be upset that this year’s events have drastically changed. But has a peep of that disappointment made itself public? I haven’t seen any. The Pride community knows that by canceling these events, they are keeping their community, and indeed the larger community, safe and healthy.

Then, when the protests of last month started, the Pride community jumped behind them wholeheartedly: because repression of one group cannot be fully addressed until repression of all groups is recognized. Instead of getting mad that Pride month may be sharing the spotlight this year (no “gay lives matter, too,” though an appropriate #blacktranslivesmatter hashtag has been gaining visibility), LGBTQ+ leaders and individuals have shown an outpouring of sympathy and support. Contrast this with the Michigan COVID protesters angry that they can’t get a haircut, or the tone-deaf individuals insisting “all lives matter,” and it’s pretty clear who has the moral high-ground here.

Being a good ally

I actually hate the word ally, it sounds performative, and it should be redundant: Boaz stood with and for the repressed Naomi and Ruth. Jesus calls us to do the same for the repressed of today. The Pride community has answered that call better than most of us. If we see injustices happening (and no, not being able to get your nails done does not count as an injustice), we, as Christians, are duty-bound to help end those injustices. Boaz gave of both his wealth and his social influence, not to mention the protection of his house and name. So, to all the LGBTQ+ individuals out there holding space for Black Lives Matter, and abiding by safety protocols for COVID quarantines, whether you are Christian or not, I bless you as Naomi blessed Boaz. God sees your heart, and I know Xe is well pleased.

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Ecclesiastes 05 – The Peace of Acceptance

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Remember my post on Chapter Two where I talked about the author’s journey to wisdom?  Today’s chapter is where Qohelet (the author, whom I discuss in Chapter One) solidly establishes a mentality of acceptance –  and manifests the peace and wisdom that brings.  So it seems appropriate to talk about finding and practicing acceptance in our own lives today.  But what a tricky post this is to write, for I am no expert! Acceptance is very much a skill I am still learning, and slowly.  I must admit I feel like a bit of an impostor making it the subject of a blog post.  But perhaps, in writing it, we can all learn together, so I’ll forge ahead.

What acceptance isn’t

Let’s start with talking about what acceptance is not, because I think that has helped most in my journey to practicing acceptance.  Acceptance is not resignation or agreement.  By accepting a situation for what it is, you are not abdicating any of your own power, but rather fully recognizing reality and thwarting denial.  Acceptance is also not wallowing in your feelings forever.  By accepting feelings you may wish to avoid, you acknowledge them and give yourself the freedom to move forward.

Accepting the bad: working through an example

As an example: let’s say you worked really hard to get a promotion and felt confident in your ability to achieve it, only to be passed over for a coworker you feel doesn’t deserve it.  This is a painful situation: disappointment, inadequacy, anger, and frustration are all perfectly normal feelings to have.  It is good to acknowledge (aka, accept) them instead of trying to push them down.  By giving yourself a chance to feel these emotions in a safe, controlled environment (such as over the weekend, or even a handful of weekends, at home with loved ones supporting you) you lessen the risk of them spilling out in a detrimental manner at work.  If there is one part of acceptance I have mastered, it’s having a good cry.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told Chris “I just need to be sad right now,” and then sobbed into my pillow for ten minutes, feeling much better after just giving into that sadness instead of trying to have a stiff upper lip.  Poor Chris, he rolls with it even though I think it still freaks him out.

After accepting your feelings, you can look at the situation critically, accepting the reality of it.  On first blush this sounds like resignation, but it’s really the first step in seeing where your power truly lies.  When you’re able to neutrally observe this newly-promoted coworker, maybe you’ll see that maybe they had skills you didn’t realize, and the boss really knew what they were doing.  This realization can lead to a new mentorship, a productive discussion with the boss, and perhaps a future promotion.  Also possible: you may realize that you work in a dysfunctional environment where cronyism is more at play than rewarding hard work, and you need to either learn to play the game or get out.  It sounds harsh, but realizing something like that is better than resisting reality, or trying to make a reality (like a dysfunctional workplace) bend to your ideal (one where hard work is rewarded) – because that isn’t going to happen and will only lead to further frustration.

Accepting the good – permission to rest

Surprisingly, I think a lot of Americans have just as much trouble practicing acceptance with the good in their lives as the bad, starting with down-time.  Collectively, we resist, mock, or deny rest.  As this pandemic has made painfully apparent, many workers (especially low-wage workers) are expected to show up for work even when sick, and are oftentimes punished – even to the point of firing – if they stay home to take care of themselves.  In more white-collar jobs, it is often a point of pride to be the one coming in early to the office or staying late, the one who has the most meetings or biggest workload.  This nose-to-the-grindstone mentality keeps even those that have the ability to rest (in the form of paid vacation and set office hours) from it.  And my personal example: our three farm employees live with us at the moment, and I still feel the urge to jump up and be productive whenever one of them shows up, because I feel guilty if I’m sitting down in the middle of the day.  I constantly have to remind myself that my work is different from theirs: when they’re slowing down in the evening is when I’m revving up with making dinner and the bedtime routine. But even here do you see how I’m justifying rest with subsequent work?  I seriously thought about deleting these last few sentences, but I’m going to leave them here to demonstrate just how pathological our resistance to rest is, even when it’s readily available to us.  To rest is good and acceptable.  There’s even a commandment about not toiling on the Sabbath.  We need to accept rest into our lives, and create a culture where everyone can access rest, as well.

Accepting the good – not everything has to make money

Now let’s talk about the side hustle! As a mostly stay at home mom I really feel the pressure for the side-hustle.  I work hard, especially now with quarantine: I’m the cook and grocery shopper for the family, and now the teacher and therapist as well as all the other duties that running a household requires, like laundry, bill pay, cleaning, and child-care.  But it is unpaid work, and without that paycheck, I must remind myself that this work, too, has real value.  It’s an uphill battle: my IG feed is littered with sponsored ads for online seminars that promise to “turn your passion into a six-figure enterprise” or how you can “make money during naptime doing what you love,” insidiously implying that I’m not doing enough, and that money is the only acceptable end-goal.  Also, while compliments like “you’re so good at [baking, knitting, writing, drawing, or whatever other hobby you may have], you should start a business!” are, truly, meant as compliments, they show where our collective value lies: not in the enjoyment of the craft, but in the potential cash flow that craft could maybe, possibly, bring.

Now I’m not going to lie, I would be delighted if this blog started generating a little cash for me. I definitely have my Patreon and Venmo accounts set up, should you feel so moved.  But more than anything I write this because it is a way for me to connect and define my faith, and share a message of love that I fear is severely lacking in broader Christianity.  And as for my other hobbies, like quilting or mending?  Those are definitely just for me, and the people I gift things to, because they bring me joy, even without a dollar sign attached to them.

Accepting the good – compliments

Why, when someone gives us a compliment, do we feel the need to downplay it?  Real examples from my own life:

“The house is so clean!” “Thanks, it’s still got a ways to go, but it’s better than it was.”

“Wow, your garden is really coming along!” “Thanks, I’m happy I got the greens in but I still have a lot of work to do.”

“You’re hair is so cute today!” “Thank you, but I really need to get it cut.”

You know the expression there’s a silver lining to every cloud? It’s almost like we need the perverse opposite when someone compliments us: a thunderstorm behind every rainbow.  Why can’t we acknowledge our gifts without sounding boastful?  Why can’t we accept a compliment with just a simple “thank you.”  Some people are certainly better than others at it, but it’s another thing I’m trying to work on.  I want to enjoy my clean house, my garden growing, my good hair days. If we follow the Ecclesiastes call to joy, we begin to see and accept that God wants us to enjoy these things and more, as well.

Practicing acceptance

The first and biggest step to practicing acceptance is practicing mindfulness.  When we are mindful of our feelings and our circumstances, we are better able to react positively to both. When something bad happens, we can treat ourselves kindly instead of compounding any problems through our own resistance.  When something good happens, we can lean into the experience.  And this, I believe, is part of the spiritual maturity God wants for us and from us.  God wants us to be happy.  That doesn’t mean that any sorrow in our lives is evidence of God’s disinterest – bad things do happen.  (Which is another truth Qohelet recognizes throughout Ecclesiastes.)  But we have the formula for deep joy: to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in our labor.  If we are mindful and accepting while putting this formula into practice, joy and wisdom are within our grasp.

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!

Ecclesiastes 04 – Do Not Turn a Blind Eye to Modern Lynchings

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter.
And I declared that the dead,
    who had already died,
are happier than the living,
    who are still alive.
But better than both
    is the one who has never been born,
who has not seen the evil
    that is done under the sun.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

There is so much to write about in this chapter, so much I was hoping to share with you today.  But given the recent arrests of Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers, I don’t want us to think our work on that subject is done. We need to sit with some hard truths instead, and I want to share some powerful words from an anonymous source, republished with their permission:

 

Ahmaud Arbery was lynched on February 23, while out jogging on the outskirts of Brunswick, GA. Today, to celebrate what would’ve been his 26th birthday, #IRunWithMaud.

And yes, I said lynched. Maybe some of y’all thought lynchings had gone the way of Jim Crow laws. They have not.

Merriam-Webster defines “lynching” as “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob action without legal approval or permission,” with the following usage example: The accused killer was lynched by an angry mob.

That’s what happened here. The two men arrested for Arbery’s murder, 64-year old Gregory McMichael and his son 34-year old Travis, claimed they believed he was a robbery suspect. That the father was once a police officer doesn’t add support to their claimed justification for stalking and gunning down Arbery; as any student of American history knows, in many if not most lynchings of black people, law enforcement was complicit, either as participants in the lynching or observers who prevented the victim from being saved. And in nearly all instances, accusations of crime, nearly always against whites and nearly always either overblown or entirely baseless, were the predicate for the lynching.

Between 1877 and 1950, only Mississippi saw more lynchings than Georgia. During that time period, 589 people were lynched in Georgia–that we know of. The vast majority were black, and nearly every person complicit in those lynchings was white. Again, many had ties to law enforcement.

Georgia was the scene of some of the most gruesome lynchings on record. Take, for example, the April 23, 1899 lynching of Sam Hose near Newnan, GA. In his remarkable book “At the Hands of Persons Unknown,” Philip Dray reconstructs from contemporary reports the chaotic scene, a festival of death to which crowds of Georgians traveled by horse, by train, and on foot from as far away as Atlanta. Here’s Dray’s description of the lynch mob’s treatment of Hose; those with weak stomachs may want to skip it:

“The torture of the victim lasted almost half an hour. It began when a man stepped forward and very matter-of-factly sliced off Hose’s ears. Then several men grabbed Hose’s arms and held them forward so his fingers could be severed one by one and shown to the crowd. Finally, a blade was passed between his thighs, Hose cried in agony, and a moment later his genitals were held aloft.”

After being so mutilated, Hose was soaked in kerosene and set on fire while still alive. His last words were reportedly “Sweet Jesus.” His charred remains, photos of which survive, were then set upon by the crowd, who fought to wrench free pieces of his body as souvenirs. Civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, who visited the town soon after the event, was shocked to learn that Hose’s knuckles were for sale at a local grocer’s shop.

Hose’s alleged crime? Murdering his white employer during an argument over wages, and allegedly raping his wife. The rape allegation was added later, when the mob needed justification to deny Hose his right to a fair trial for the killing. Rape and attempted rape would be a frequent justification for lynching over the years.

The Hose lynching wasn’t even the most vile and disturbing one to happen in Georgia. That dishonor would go to either the Mary Turner lynching in Lowndes County, or the Mae Murray Dorsey lynching in Walton County.

On July 25, 1946, Dorsey, her husband, and another couple were stopped by a white mob, beaten, tied to an oak tree near the Moore’s Ford Bridge, and shot numerous times. Dorsey was seven months pregnant at the time. After the smoke had cleared from the shooting, one of the mob cut the fetus from Dorsey’s body.

Somehow that’s not even the most revolting, disturbing lynching of a pregnant woman in Georgia. That would be the Mary Turner lynching. On May 16, 1918, a 25-year old white farmer named Hampton Smith was murdered in Brooks County. Over the following weeks, at least thirteen black citizens were murdered by white mobs seeking revenge for Smith’s death. One of those victims was a man named Hayes Turner, who had threatened Smith after Smith struck Hayes’s wife, Mary.

After her husband was lynched on May 18, 1918, Mary publicly denounced the lynch mob and swore that she would have them arrested for their crime. So the mob came for her next, despite the fact that she was eight months pregnant. Again I’ll rely on the description of the scene given by Philip Dray, based on contemporary reporting and eyewitness interviews–and again I warn those of you with weak stomachs:

“[B]efore a crowd that included women and children,” Dray writes, “Mary was stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her swollen belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground, gave a cry, and was stomped to death.”

Why am I sharing all this gruesome history? Simple. Because what happened to Ahmaud Arbery was the same thing that happened to Sam Hose, and Mary Turner, and Mae Murray Dorsey, and hundreds of other black people in Georgia. Groups of angry white people deemed a black life to have no value, and decided they would end it. Just like the murderers of Hose, Dorsey, and Turner, Arbery’s killers probably figured they’d get away with it. And for a while, they were right; the Glynn County District Attorney directed police officers on the scene not to arrest the McMichaels, even though they believed they had probable cause to do so. 589th verse, same as the first. And Georgia’s not the only state with such a hate-filled history; I’m writing this about a two-hour drive south of where Jesse Washington was tortured, castrated, and slowly roasted to death near Waco City Hall while the mayor and chief of police looked on.

Facts like these are the reason groups had to be formed to remind us white people that black lives do, in fact, matter. Facts like the ones I’ve laid out above are the reason Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid knelt during the National Anthem of a nation where such acts of evil were permitted, and not punished, and where numerous attempts to make lynching a federal crime were defeated. (In fact, one can easily argue that none of the perpetrators of the acts I’ve described above suffered a fraction of the consequences Kaepernick has suffered.) Facts like the ones I’ve laid out above are the reason so many of us need only look to Donald Trump calling the racists who marched on Charlottesville “very fine people” as the final proof, if such were needed, that a racist sits in the White House.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: America has a race problem, and it could end up being the death of us. If you don’t believe me, go read Dray’s book. Go read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow.” Go read Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped From The Beginning.” Go read Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law.” Go read any collection of writings by Dr. King, or Du Bois, or Wells-Barnett. I could recommend countless books to enlighten y’all who need the enlightening.

Again, America has a race problem, and it could be the death of us. As Kendi points out, it’s not enough for us to not be racist. We need to be anti-racist. That means knowing our history, and understanding where we are now. It means calling lynching by its name when we see it. It means demanding accountability for such awful crimes against humanity. It means understanding why Kaepernick knelt, and understanding that he’s far from alone in his sentiments. And it means standing with people like Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and the thousands of other black men and women who’ve met violent, early ends for the sole reason that they were black in America.

 

If you have been moved by what you have read, I encourage you to consider donating to support a Legal Aid society near you (this link takes you to the one in DC), which helps those most at-risk in the legal system receive effective representation.  I also encourage you to support the Black voices speaking their truth right now.  There are many, but some that I follow are Rachel Cargle (and the Loveland Foundation), D. Danyelle Thomas of Unfit Christian, and Christena Cleveland – who is included in the upcoming anthology A Measure of Belonging: Writers of Color on the New American South, which can be pre-ordered at the link.  My wonderful husband Chris Newman of @sylvanaquafarms also writes incisive prose about the intersection of race, farming, food, and privilege.  There is a crowdfunding page published by Crowdpac for Ahmaud Arbery’s family, but at the time of publishing they have yet to be personally affiliated with it, so I am watching to see it receives their stamp of approval before donating to it. And as always, God vs. The Patriarchy can be supported via several options at the Support tab, to the left.