Psalm 04 – Processing Our New Normal

Answer me when I call to you,
    my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
    How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

4  In your anger do not sin;
    when you are on your beds,
    search your hearts and be silent.
Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
    and trust in the Lord.

Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will show us any good?”
    Let the light of your face shine on us.
Fill my heart with joy
    when their grain and new wine abound.

8 I will lie down and sleep in peace
    for you alone, Lord,
    make me dwell in safety.

 

I am fortunate enough to work from home to begin with, so “sheltering in place” for COVID-19 has been less disruptive to my routine than it has been for many.  I already had my youngest here full time (now her older sister is officially home until August, since the rest of the school year has been cancelled for Virginia), and right now my farm duties consist mainly of keeping everyone fed.  That’s no small feat with three hardworking men in the house (our two farm employees live with us at the moment), but it’s something more or less compatible with watching children simultaneously.

That being said, I feel like we’re living in a state of suspended animation.  The farm is doing well, for now.  We lost all our wholesale business but retail demand has spiked.  How long that will last is uncertain, as economic hardships become more likely for at least some of our customers as time wears on.  Farmer’s markets, due to open in about a month, have been at the very least postponed.  So I wonder what the future will bring, living in a little bubble now with my two girls, doing pretty well at sticking to a schedule that leads us nowhere but down the road for a walk with the dogs, back to the kitchen table for some home-led occupational and speech therapy, and into the garden after quiet time.  It’s pretty much the same day in and day out.  I’m guiltily enjoying the day-to-day of it, except for the rainy days that make outside-time a little less fun and a lot shorter.  But I don’t know what’s on the horizon: will we be able to continue like this for weeks, possibly months?  Will the orders hold, the money hold?  How long til we can go to the playground again, see grandparents again?  Will farmers markets start up in the summer?  Will our restaurants come back online in a way that allows them to order from us again?  All I can do is sit here and wonder.

The dichotomy of spring bursting forth while the world crumbles in on itself is disorienting, as well.  I have gone grocery shopping twice now, and each trip into town it seems like there is a malignancy in the air.  There is a feeling of emergency because the shelves are empty. I’m afraid to breathe, afraid to touch anything.  The produce looks sinister because I do not know what germs might be lingering on the peels and rinds.  But then I get home, and see the remaining daffodils waving cheerily in a warming breeze, birdsong filling the air, and early butterflies fluttering by.  The wildflower meadow I’ve been painstakingly establishing the past two years has lots of new shoots in all different shapes and sizes, promising for a beautiful display starting in a few weeks.  My volunteer strawberries have flowers on them.  A few days ago, I had to turn the TV off after watching a special report on an Italian hospital because it was so unsettling, but that same day I noticed the tulip poplars are leafing out, and my mustard greens were sprouting second leaves.  Fear and joy follow each other in a tight circle right now.

Because of this unprecedented mass pandemic and the global effects it’s having not just on people’s physical health but also their economic and mental health realities, I’m going to set my Lenten reading of Job aside for now.  While Job makes an ever more relatable figure in this time of uncertainty and anxiety, I want to take a break from these passages of anguish to focus first on some passages of comfort and encouragement.  Perhaps, given the time, I’ll be able to provide some distraction, diving into some of the Bible’s most interesting stories, or provide an antidote to some of the fear-mongering eschatological readings some zealots like to throw around in times of crisis.  I’ll take it week by week.

Today I want to introduce you to my favorite Psalm, one I’ve been thinking of a lot in the past couple weeks.  It has been one of my favorites since high school.  It strikes the perfect balance between counsel and rejoicing.  I am not always great at self-regulating, and am very quick to anger when hungry, tired, or stressed.  As such, I have felt like verse four, “in your anger do not sin, when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent” is always a needed reminder.  My fuse was very short at the beginning of our shelter in place, in truth I had a bit of a breakdown that first Sunday.

I’m terribly ashamed I let it get to that point, but I’m sure that a lot of people out there have similarly been pushed to their limits of late.  If you are having trouble, ask for help.  This is not some vague call for “self care,” a lovely idea that is often hard to put into practice due to constraints of time, money, and family.  No, this is a call to action.  And yes, there are still resources out there right now, even if person-to-person contact is limited.  For myself, I finally started counseling through Better Help – and guess what? They have an unemployment discount. If you are able to pay in bulk, the price keeps dropping.  They’ve also provided this article on free online therapy, and NAMI has this list of hotline resources for those in crisis or needing guidance in where to turn. I also finally got an anti-anxiety medication filled, too.  These two steps have helped me tremendously, and I’m not ashamed to admit to either.  Taking care of your mental health – in the form of counseling, medication, or otherwise – is of the utmost importance, especially in times like these.  Through these things, God has given me relief from my distress, indeed.

As a person prone to anxiety (and in recent years, insomnia) I especially appreciate that last verse, “I will lay me down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” and will often repeat it to myself in an effort to get to sleep. You see, I’ll fully admit to prayer not being the strongest part of my spiritual practice.  “Talking to God” does not come naturally to me, so I appreciate rote phrases, such as this or the Lord’s Prayer.  (The number of easily memorized, rote prayers is one of the things I find most appealing about Catholicism.)  If you, too, struggle with praying in times of trouble – or just in general – I suggest memorizing the last verse of this Psalm as I have and using it as your bedtime prayer.

I am finishing writing this as the girls watch a movie and dinner simmers on the stove.  With Chris throwing everything he has into farming while we can still make some money at it, I’m only left with stolen moments like these that I have time to write.  I’d love to be doing so much more, but I’ve made peace with it.  If a little writing time is all I have to give up, I’m doing pretty well.  I hope you are giving yourself the grace needed to get through this strange time, and would love to hear from you all on how you’re coping.  I am happy to lend an ear to anyone who needs to talk, provide comfort food recipes or activity ideas for small children, or recommend some readings.  Comment or message me, and be sure to take care of yourselves.  God bless, and I’ll be back with something new next Sunday.

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Job 20 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 2: Joining the Broader Fight

17 He will not enjoy the streams,
    the rivers flowing with honey and cream.
18 What he toiled for he must give back uneaten;
    he will not enjoy the profit from his trading.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Zophar tells of all the wicked man will be forced to do: his own hands must give back his wealth, he will spit out the riches he has swallowed, when he has filled his belly, God will vent his burning anger against him.  I like Zophar’s latest speech better than Eliphaz’s recent one because it more fully acknowledges the greedy, opulent, and oppressive nature of the proverbial “wicked man.”  Of course we must remember that Zophar is implying that Job’s fortune was the “mirth of the wicked” and “joy of the godless.”  In Zophar’s mind, it wouldn’t have been taken away from Job if it hadn’t been so. As such, we must take Zophar’s words with a grain of salt.  But it still leaves me wondering, as I continue to ponder the phrase “reconciliation is dead,” is it appropriate for us to be agents of God’s anger, and if so, how would we go about doing it?

As a reminder, this is a blog about finding Biblical evidence of God’s radical love for all.  And I think it might be time – past time, really – for some tough love.  Let me fall back on a parenting analogy:  I try corrective behavior as much as possible in my house, trying to redirect frustration away from hitting and pinching when I see those little hands start to raise.  But sometimes, no amount of redirect is going to keep one sister from hitting the other, and the only recourse is a time out.  A swift, unceremonious scooping up of a child any way I can grab them, plopping them in their room, and shutting the door.  Talking comes later, after they calm down and aren’t a slappy, bite-y threat to the other one.  Perhaps a collective time out is needed for certain people, organizations, and governments, as well – and that gets me back to the call to action listed in this article (the same one mentioned in Part 1 of this series).

To recap: this article was written by native people for native people, at a time when First Nations in Canada are blockading railways and otherwise disrupting the economy in an effort to protect their unceded homelands from being stolen for pipelines and infrastructure that would be environmentally and culturally damaging.  There is no love lost in it for the Canadian government, and it’s outright anarchist in passages.  As I’ve said before, I still urge you to read it. It contains some very salient points that, if we are to stay true to Jesus’ message of love and stewardship, I think we are called to do as Christians.  Of course, these apply primarily to the land reclamation and defense movements going on but I think these points can also inform our larger role of Progressive Christian Activists.  Let’s examine them:

  1. Change the rules, breaking them if necessary.  The Wet’suwet’en have exhausted all other outlets for peaceably and legally challenging these land grabs.  The greed and destruction they are fighting against is wrong, so I fully support their “illegal” actions.  Remember, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.  Didn’t we have a whole civil rights movement in this country to change the laws oppressing black citizens?  Remember that?  I don’t see thoughtful law-breaking as anarchy, I see it as fairness in action.  So let’s support these rail blockades, and look closely at the laws governing the lives of women, minorities, immigrants, children…are they fair? If not, maybe it’s time we stop following them.
  2. Widen our scope. The article talks about dreaming big – past just blocking the pipelines and into full reclamation of land and indigenous governing structures replacing the Canadian state.  I’ll admit, my knee-jerk reactions are “that’s impractical” and also “how many lives would that negatively impact?”  But what if we lean into that dream?  We need to shake off this image we have of red savages circling the wagons of innocent white folk.  No one is going to scalp us if  we actually start meeting these revolutionaries halfway, and truly figure out ways to: reduce and improve government, turning more of it over to local councils; encourage landowners to return that land to native stakeholders (I’m particularly thinking about farmland that would otherwise be bought by developers, and parks and public spaces that are the current responsibility of government); and just generally put more ecologically and culturally sensitive practices into place in white society.  All of these efforts would benefit not just native society, but broader society as well.  I’m not going to lie – we as white people are going to have to put a lot of good faith efforts out there to start this ball rolling, as we as white people have a long history of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.  And that’s going to take some courage on our part.
  3. Unity. Again, this article was written by native people for native people, so its focus was on infighting and backstabbing between different nations.  But I’m going to go ahead and give the same strongly worded sentiments to women more or less in my situation (white, middle class) who refuse to pull the wool from over their eyes, like the neighbor up the road with a giant “Women for Trump” flag in her front yard.  Why, ladies, do you keep voting men into power that do not have your best interest at heart?  Men who lie, men who abuse women, men who rape the earth for their own gain?  I can forgive you your first vote for Trump, or McConnell, or whoever…but can you not now see the depths of their depravity? I know many of you are one issue voters who are only interested in seeing that abortion bans are put in place and upheld…but please, do not let that one issue blind you to the children – the same children you are so desperate to support when they’re in the womb – that they are hurting at the border, in reservations, in economically disadvantaged families.  If you would but stop and look, you have more in common with the Wet’suwet’en than you do with the oppressive men in power.  Please, I pray, that you recognize it.
  4. Prepare for a battlefield with multiple fronts – The author of the above article ends with a call for settlers to not fall into tired solidarity traps.  I hope I haven’t, and I’m encouraged by their call to fight parallel battles towards the same goal.  I stand with Wet’suwet’en, but I’m not standing idly by.  I’m looking around my own little community and seeing what needs to be done, teaching my own children the way they should treat the world, and the way they should demand it to be treated.  Doing the same with your children is an act of resistance.  So is reclaiming spaces where you are underrepresented or flat out discouraged (yay @accessibleyoga @queerswhofarm and @blackgirlstrekkin for just three examples of such initiatives on Instagram); interrupting the cradle to prison pipeline through education and restorative justice efforts; supporting ecological initiatives in your community (the plastic bag bans in certain states are just the tip of the iceberg); and just continuing to speak up, speak out, and create alliances with like-minded people whenever possible.

I want to close with some words from the original article (which again, you can read in full at the link above): “Being determined and sure is not the same as being unafraid. There are many dangerous days ahead of us. It is dangerous to say, ‘I will not obey.’ ” It is, and there is no guarantee that, even if we are the ones proverbially putting those currently in power in time out, that we will live to see the “fate God allots the wicked” which Zophar so illustratively describes in this chapter of Job.  But even if I don’t see all the changes that I hope and dream for in my lifetime, I want to at least make it a little better for my girls, and they’ll make it a little better for their kids, and so on down the line.  But none of that is going to happen if we don’t start working for it, now.  The battle cry has been issued: reconciliation is dead.  Let it be our invitation to join the fight.

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Job 19 – Reconciliation is Dead Part 1: International Women’s Day

28 “If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
    since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
29 you should fear the sword yourselves;
    for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
    and then you will know that there is judgment.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here)

Sitting with the term “Reconciliation is Dead”

A few weeks ago, I came across the phrase “Reconciliation is Dead,” a term being used by those in the Wet’suwet’en protest and blockade efforts.  It’s been echoing around my head a lot as I read Job, a book about suffering through undeserved injustices.  Perhaps for the first time in the story (or maybe in his last speech, depending whether you think it is spoken in sarcasm or not), Job is angry almost to the point of seeking vengeance.  He looks for his “Reedemer,” the one who will bring judgement upon those who judge him.  Job has been pushed to his breaking point, and now lashes out verbally, warning his friends that their time will come.

Truly, how much abuse can a person suffer before striking back?  How much abuse can a people suffer before revolting?  Treaty after treaty has been signed between the Canadian government and indigenous nations, and they are always ignored.  Reconciliation efforts are started when convenient, and just as easily put aside.  And we can not nod sympathetically from down here, as all of this is true in the States as well.  Job has had enough of his friends’ empty words, and First Nations have had enough of ours.

International Women’s Day and Missing Indigenous Women

Today happens to be International Women’s Day, which I fortuitously remembered while preparing this post over the weekend.  I was not planning to write about it (quite honestly because I forgot when it was), but I’m still wrestling with exactly what needs to be said, from a white woman’s perspective, on the idea that reconciliation is dead. It happening to be International Women’s Day, I believe, is a divine coincidence that allows me to break up that thought process into parts.  It seems only fitting to start my focus upon the ongoing plague of missing indigenous women, and what it means for the broader community of women.

First, some sobering statistics:  Due to a number of factors (including poor reporting and mis-identifying ethnicities, among others) the number of missing indigenous women and girls is hard to pin down, but across the US and Canada it is in the thousands.  The most consistent number I’ve seen is around 4,000, but others estimate upwards of 6,000.  Even more sobering, one in three Native women are predicted to be the victims of sexual assault.  Couple this with the disturbingly high number of disappearances and you can see the compounding effects of police brutality, sex trafficking, domestic abuse and addiction issues that has been wrought upon native communities for decades – centuries, if we’re honest with ourselves.

Clearly, the prevailing laws are failing these women.  As human beings, I believe we should care about this just because it’s the right thing to do, but as women we should care about it because if a law is failing one of us, it is failing all of us.  God forbid you are ever abducted, but if you were, what would you rather rely upon: a slow media day and the hope that you are attractive enough (and have an interested party, such as a case worker or husband, savvy enough) to make you headline news? Or a strong, well-funded, well-staffed system of effective investigative work that makes every missing persons a top priority?

And while technically “better” than the one-in-three statistic for native women and sexual assault, the national statistic for female victims of sexual assault is still one-in-six.  Let me repeat that: one in six women, across the United States, will be the victim of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.  Neither of those statistics are acceptable.  The prevailing laws are failing all of us.  The platitudes, reminders of “how far we’ve come,” and empty symbolism of one day of remembrance mask will no longer distract us from the imperialist and chauvinistic agendas that still dominate this country.

Broad Strokes for Moving Forward

The statistics above make me angry enough to want to strike back, to seek my redeemer and warn my enemies, as Job does.  So what is to be done?  I’m still figuring that out, and there are going to be a lot of right answers, but for now, I want to share three important thoughts with you:

  1. We need to form alliances and demand change.  A rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak, and we need everyone possible to be a part of that movement. That includes reaching out beyond gender lines, not only to sympathetic men, but to non-binary peoples as well, for they face similar discrimination and abuse issues that women do. I commend the MMIW, Sovereign Bodies Institute, and others for already including two-spirited peoples in their efforts, we would do well to follow their examples.
  2. A multi-faceted approach is needed. We’re not all going to agree on all topics, but let’s try to find common ground wherever possible, and make some unexpected coalitions that will force people to pay attention.  We need to tackle reducing the stigmas attached to addiction and mental health, increase the availability of women’s health and mental health services, raise awareness about domestic abuse, child abuse, and sex trafficking, and cut through red tape and biases in police departments, to name a few areas that need work.  The expertise of social workers, community support networks, healthcare workers, lawyers, and investigative journalists are all going to be needed in this fight, so let’s start (or keep) reaching out to them.
  3. White women need to be more engaged.  We have the white privilege that allows for social power and mobility second only to white men.  Liberal, well-educated white women also usually have the economic stability, social support networks, and ability to change jobs or even locales that make speaking out less dangerous than it would be for, say, a Latina mother of three on an expired green card, or a Lakota teen who has run away from an abusive home situation. These women can and should be heard, but at the time and place of that person’s choosing, when it is safe to do so.  White women, with very little to lose, need to do more to share the load. Now, before anyone goes accusing me of white savior syndrome, let me just say, the first part of becoming more engaged is listening to the experiences and needs of non-white women. Listen to (and believe) the experiences that are shared with you, and ask what you can do to help.  Then do it.  If we can reduce the rate of violence against native women, we are on the right path to reducing violence against all women.

I fear that today’s post is a little rambling, even after many restarts and heavy editing.  Like I said, I am trying to figure out exactly what my role as a Christian and a white woman are, particularly when those two identifiers have a history of being so detrimental to the very group I want to lift up.  Whatever structure today’s post does have comes from this particularly powerful article that was directed to other native readers, but has much to offer non-indigenous readers as well, particularly those of us who consider ourselves “allies.”  It’s a strongly-worded call to even stronger action, and may put some people off with its anarchist overtones, but nevertheless I recommend it.  My calls to form alliances and take a multi-faceted approach come directly from the author’s call to action.  I’ll be referencing it again when I revisit the “reconciliation is dead” theme in a few days’ time.

“Though I cry, “I have been wronged!” I get no response. Though I call for help, there is no justice,” Job laments at the beginning of chapter 19.  On this International Women’s Day, let’s recommit to each other, and especially to our missing native sisters, to do better, to make this world a safer place for ourselves and our daughters. No one’s cry for justice and help should go unanswered.  We have the power to be agent’s of God’s change, truly be the the Redeemer such as Job looks for and so many of us need.  I urge you one last time, do not turn a blind eye to this crisis.  If for no other reason, in helping them we also help ourselves.

Sovereign Bodies Institute is staffed and directed predominantly by native women dedicated to understanding and promoting healing from sexual violence in Native Communities.  They now run the MMIWG2 (Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirited) database, an effort to fill the void of a central database that can be used by community members, advocates, activists, and researchers in their work towards justice.. They are one of many organizations that deserve our fiscal support, so please donate if you are able. Also, if you are learning from what you read here, please follow the blog for more.  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  God Vs. The Patriarchy is also on Instagram and Twitter, too.