1 Kings 15 – A Response to the 2020 Election: Transitions of Power

25 Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit.

27 Baasha son of Ahijah from the tribe of Issachar plotted against him, and he struck him down at Gibbethon, a Philistine town, while Nadab and all Israel were besieging it. 28 Baasha killed Nadab in the third year of Asa king of Judah and succeeded him as king. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Watching election coverage last week I knew I wanted to discuss Kings, which is basically one long chronicle of regime change. I wish I had a magic ball to tell you what is going to happen with the upcoming transition of power. Even as Biden is called winner while I sit here writing, the transition to his presidency still faces challenges – a lot of nonsense can happen between now and January, my friends. But in reading a few chapters of 1 Kings this week, I was reminded of this: transitions of power, whether they be peaceful, contested, or anything else, are a consistent part of human history, something to be expected and endured…not unlike death and taxes.

Parallels between Kings 15 and Today’s Politics

So much of Kings, particularly this chapter, has parallels in all of human history, up to and including today. Take v. 13, written about King Asa of Judah: “He even disposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole.” Just a few days ago I read an article about how the politics, policies and personal conduct of Trump and his supporters has torn families apart, with both sides disowning the other. I was also reminded of our own Civil War, where underage sons defied parental wishes to sneak North or South to fight.

In this story of regime change, there is also the accompanying story of changes in diplomatic relations: The same King Asa who disposed his grandmother went to a neighboring king, Ben-Hadad, to tempt him into a new treaty, breaking Ben-Hadad’s treaty with King Asa’s enemy King Baasha. (vv. 18-22) Biden has already promised changes in diplomatic relations, and he isn’t even in office yet. On November fourth, Biden tweeted “Today, the Trump Administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden Administration will rejoin it.” It may not exactly be a treaty coup a lá King Asa, but it will dramatically change the diplomatic landscape of not only the US but also the world.

Even the division of Israel reminds me of the division of the US. In Kings, the unified Israel of Solomon is divided into a Northern kingdom of ten tribes and the Southern kingdom of Judah. To be clear, there are many countries and kingdoms that have been divided along a North/South line – I think it is dangerous to read the Bible looking for prophetic parallels to contemporary times. But the fact that it has been so read, and the fact that this division has existed in so many places and times, does speak to the universality of the text, and the universality of this human experience.

God keeps Their promises

It’s not much comfort that so many people throughout history can look at a contentious political climate and nod sympathetically, but at least it reminds us that politics is an endurance sport, not a sprint, as it always has been. There will be better rulers, such as Asa, who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 11), and worse rulers, such as Abijah, who “committed all the sins his father had done before him” (v. 3).

But the important thing to remember is that God keeps Their promises. Let’s start with the second half of this chapter, where Baasha rises up in the Northern kingdom of Israel and wipes out Jeroboam’s regime down to the last person. This, gruesome as it is, is in fulfillment of God’s promise. It’s a doubly tragic story, as Jeroboam had the opportunity to create a new covenant with God that went alongside God’s covenant with Israel. In Kings 11:38-39 God tells Jeroboam, “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.” (Emphasis mine.) Imagine what it would have been like to have two kingdoms blessed by God. It makes me wonder exactly how many such covenants could have existed and how it could have changed the course of history. Unfortunately, Jeroboam did not hold up his end of the deal, so that opportunity was not only lost, but he so angered God that God promised to wipe out his whole family. In Baasha’s uprising detailed at the end of this chapter, that promise of retribution was kept.

On the flip side of that coin, even the evil of all the kings of Judah could not move God’s hand against them. This is spelled out explicitly in vv. 4-5: “Nevertheless, for David’s sake the Lord his God gave him [Abijah] a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong. For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life — except in the case of Uriah the Hittite [a story for another day].” God so loved David that Xe made a promise to him that God upheld, despite the fact that David’s descendants did not honor the terms of the covenant.

God’s promise to us, and how we can make it even better.

So what is God’s promise to us, the ones who are living in today’s world? It is the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. God so loved the world, just as he loved David, that God sent his only son to prepare the world for a communion with the divine that would be open to all. And I mean all. Nothing we can do will change that ultimate salvation, because nothing we can do will negate God’s love for the world. This has been proven from Noah to Jesus and beyond.

But, if we look at the story of Kings, there is clearly a lot of wiggle room in the details. (Dare I say…the devil’s in the details? I crack myself up, at least.) Yes, David’s lineage was continuous. But because they turned from God’s ways, David’s descendants were relegated to one small part of the kingdom, and to regimes plagued by war and dissent, instead of ruling prosperously over all of Israel.

Back to today. What can we do to make our deal with eternal salvation even better? It is succinctly stated in the Greatest Commandment, given several times in the New Testament and actually adapted from Deuteronomy: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Again, emphasis mine.) Can you imagine how God would smile down upon us if we made our world a world where no one went hungry? How God would smile down upon us if we recognized the human dignity of every female, non-binary, and brown individual? If those suffering mental illness, disability, or addiction were not stigmatized but given the resources they needed to be fully participatory members of society? If everyone was able to live healthy lives through access to quality health care?

From a purely selfish standpoint, just think of all the contributions of those who have been lucky enough to “beat the odds” and contribute to society. Anecdotally, let’s look at Stephen Hawking. His remarkably long and productive life with ALS can be at least in part attributed to his access to early screening and a devoted family who could (afford to) care for him. Now, think of all the artists, from Oscar Wilde and Zora Neale Thurston to Judy Garland and Sammy Davis, Jr who could have continued creating and contributing if they hadn’t died in poverty brought on by medical bills and addictions. And those are just the famous ones. How many creative minds have succumbed to debt, disease, and death before they even had a chance to contribute? If we made a society that treated everyone compassionately, the potential blessings for all of us could truly be manifold.

A final word on the election

Biden winning is, at least for me, a small breath of relief. I won’t feel at ease until he is sworn in, to be honest. I know we all need that breath of relief, so please, go ahead and take it. But don’t forget the popular vote: over seventy million people, nearly half of those who voted, voted for Trump. We have a long way to go in order counteract the hate and vitriol of seventy million people who, in voting for Trump, voted for racism, homophobia, and intolerance of every sort.

This isn’t something that most Biden voters want to hear, but a large part of this reconstruction process needs to be reaching out to Trump voters and making allies of them, so someone like Trump doesn’t win them over again. We need to show them how an equitable society benefits them, as well (because it will). We need to work harder than ever now to make sure that someone like Trump doesn’t happen again, so that in future years we can look back and say, “Wow, that was really bad, and look at how close we got to it getting even worse!” Then, and only then – after the hard work of reconciliation and equity are done, not to mention the winning of hearts and minds – can we truly breathe easy. Because then we will not only have the promise of eternal (and universal) salvation, but all the bonus benefits of an inclusive and loving society, as God desires for us, and waits for us to achieve. I pray that this election is the first step down that road, and I’ll look for ways to keep traveling it. With God’s help, I hope you will, too.

Unscheduled Break

I decided to take a little time off to do some research into what I’m going to read for Advent, looking ahead at 2021, and doing a bunch of unrelated projects (including Halloween costumes that got out of control and illustrating my children’s book that follows an Autistic girl’s love of fans, just like my five year old).

If you haven’t joined yet, consider becoming a Patron, where I’ll be posting progress thoughts during my public leave of absence. Today’s post on Patreon was a quick compare and contrast of three of Paul’s writings: Romans, Titus, and Philemon.

Stay safe, be well, and God bless you. I’ll be back soon!

Psalm 137 – Columbus Day?

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
    “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.

I started drafting this post for Thanksgiving last year, and I don’t remember what got in the way of my posting it.  But tomorrow is Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day – yes, both are listed on my Apple Calendar. It is the official kick-off of the country suddenly remembering its First Peoples for a few weeks, so some words seem in order.

It’s a bleak passage to chose, as I originally did, for a holiday where we are supposed to focus on the good things in our life.  But Thanksgiving, and indeed this time of year in general, is a complicated time in our house.  We all love eating, and being with family, and sometimes even getting a day off of farm work. But Chris (and my girls) are Native American.  Chris is a registered member of the Piscataway tribe of Maryland.  Thanksgiving is one of the best examples of white-washed cultural appropriation and re-writing history.  The story I learned as a young child was: the Pilgrims came to America, were hungry and didn’t know how to farm this strange new land, so the Indians came and taught them how to plant corn and then at the end of the season they all sat down and had a big feast together and everyone lived happily ever after.

So. Not. True.  Just as their tormentors demanded songs of joy from the Israelites, America at large demands a minstrel-like performance from Native culture while ignoring its pain.  Sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins – not to mention the thousands of colleges and highschools – used or continue to use racist and reductive imagery and terms as mascots, flattening and cheapening Native culture.  We’ve turned culturally significant regalia into cheap Halloween costumes.  A quick search on Amazon for “Indian Costume for Women” comes back with pages of options, almost all of them over-sexualized Pocahontas references that have nothing to do with the varied dress worn by native women through the centuries. We enjoy the fruits of this land – turkey and corn, for sure but also tomatoes, sugar cane, and so much else – while minimalizing it’s first stewards.

And the true history of America’s relationship with its original inhabitants just gets worse from there.  My own father-in-law went to an Indian Boarding School.  Indian Boarding Schools were created to forcibly assimilate Native youth into White culture.  These children were taken from their families against their (and their families’) will, forced to convert to Christianity, and suffered malnourishment and abuse so bad that these schools had graveyards on-site to receive the number of dead children they generated.  As a reminder, this isn’t stale history hundreds of years old, people who are still living suffered through this!

These are just some of the reasons why, when my youngest came home from pre-school last year singing “Ten Little Indians,” we got upset.  Some people may roll their eyes and think we’re being overly sensitive, that it’s “just a song.”  But that song reduces my daughters and indeed, all Native peoples, into a nursery rhyme character no more real than Bo Peep or Mother Goose.  Not to mention that this “harmless nursery rhyme” has racist ties to minstrel shows where the actors played at massacring Indians, or where the words were changed to “One little, two little, three little n***er babies…).  So yes, I do find it as overtly racist as the Washington Football Team’s recently retired name (and the handful of high school and college teams still using names like Redmen and Orangemen), and it’s definitely contributing to the erasing, flattening, and denying Native cultures.

My girls (and all native youth) are being bombarded with lessons – both overt and subliminal – that their heritage is nothing more than a fairy tale for white people.  That “Indians” – a term which in and of itself reduces the myriad of peoples and nations it refers to – were a mystical race of people waiting here to guide the true, European inheritors of this land, a people that faded away to almost nothing-ness in a passive manner, again allowing the New America to grow westward.  At best, mainstream culture overshadows – and at worst flat out ignores – the genocidal history of this country we have yet to come to terms with and make amends for.  I didn’t learn about the Trail of Tears until I was in high school.  I didn’t learn about forcible adoptions of Native children until I was in my late twenties. I didn’t learn about the systematic, state-sanctioned genocide of California Indians that happened in the late 19th century, where it is estimated over 9,000 Natives died, many of whom were women and children, until I was in my thirties. I don’t want our children to continue the inexcusable ignorance in which I (as I’m sure many of you) were raised. 

As an aside, there are almost 6,000 missing Native women and girls right now.  Sadly, many of them are presumed dead.  And that’s just the number that’s been reported, the actual figure is estimated to be much higher.  I share this fact to point out that racism and aggression towards America’s Indigenous people is not just a sad historical relic, but a very real fact of today’s society.

Native Americans are neither ancient history nor romantic fairy-tale.  They are real people, they are my family.  Their land has been turned into a foreign land, one where they have been forced to forget their own proverbial Jerusalem, peoples and nations torn down to their very foundations and below.

I’m not saying don’t enjoy Thanksgiving.  Anything that encourages us to be grateful and spend time with family has to have some good in it.  But let’s not ignore the very troubling roots of this holiday.  And let’s not exacerbate the problem.  There are plenty of decorations we can use without relying upon paper cut-outs of “Indians” in our school windows.  We don’t need to scare our kindergarteners with tales of genocide, but let’s not pretend that Wompanoags and Separatists (for those are much more accurate terms than “Indian” and “Pilgrim”) were BFF’s.  

If you feel so moved – and I hope you do – perhaps work with your school to design an age-appropriate, culturally appropriate Thanksgiving curriculum. There’s still time to talk to your childrens’ teachers to make sure such a curriculum is in place. Resources like NMAI and Oyate are great places to start if you’re looking to build a curriculum, too. Also, this article from NEA gives a great overview for how to design a curriculum, especially for younger students. Finally, if you want to start with some books to read with your young children, the ones that our family has read and enjoyed are When We Were Alone by David Robertson, Wild Berries by Julie Flett, and We Are Grateful by Traci Sorell. All of these touch upon the idea of gratitude, and reflect Native cultures in a respectful and relevant way. All three had an Indigenous individual write or illustrate. There are probably many more, but these are the ones I’ve read and can recommend.

As Christians, it is our duty to fight for the justice and equality of everyone. This fight is part of my family, but we need everyone we can get. The first step of joining in is knowledge. I’ve outlined how you can help better inform your children, above. If you want to familiarize yourself with some of the battles I’ve been watching, you can read My response to events at the 2019 Indigenous People’s March, my first mention of the Wet’suwet’en Land Protectors when discussing Job 16, and my two-part entry entitled “Reconciliation is Dead.” Of course, my husband is much more first-hand source and you can read his thoughts on some of his Medium articles. Robin Kimmerer (author of Braiding Sweetgrass) seems to be everybody’s go-to Native author, but I’d also like to suggest Kaitlin Curtice, both her books are near the top of my to-read list. If you have Native authors that you have learned from, I would love to hear about them! Drop a comment below so we can all share. Let’s vow to do better by this land’s first inhabitants. In doing so, we will all be better for it. I promise.

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