Romans 02 – Casting the First Stone on the Patriarchy

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. (Read the rest of today’s Bible Chapter here!)

I was going to write about circumcision today, but given that Paul talks about that a lot, I’ll talk about it another time.  I am doubling down on the blog in 2020, because I believe that I am sharing a message that needs to be heard: and that is a message of radical love.  I suppose most Christians claim to be doing that, and many of them are.  What I am saying on this platform is probably not all that unique, and I dare to hope there are a lot of Christians out there that hold my same views. But there are other so-called Christians who spew vitriol and hate, using Bible passages out of textual and historical context to back up their selfish lies.  And there are lots of them.  So even if this blog is just one of many other progressive Christians saying basically the same thing, at least I am adding my voice to the fight.

I worry a lot. I worry that some people may dismiss the message of “radical love” as an easy one.  It’s easy to profess that you love your neighbor when nothing is required of you other than to say the words.  And really, that’s all a blog is: a bunch of words.  I also worry that other people will dismiss my writings as deliberately controversial in an effort to get attention, that I’m out here seeking alternative interpretations just to be contrary and rock the boat.

But radical love is not easy, and it should rock the boat.  It means putting everyone on an even playing field.  While that more often than not means lifting someone up, it can also mean tearing someone down.  This is why this blog has been renamed from A Liberal Christian Reads the Bible to God Vs. The Patriarchy.  The mission remains the same: I will still be reading the Bible one chapter at a time, in an order that has not been pre-determined, to find evidence of God’s radical love of all humanity.  I am here to counter-act racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia; economic, ecological, and social injustice.  I am here to help tear down the patriarchy.  If that wasn’t perfectly clear before, I hope the re-branding makes it so.

In today’s chapter, Paul tells us not to judge another because in doing so we condemn ourselves.  Well, guess what? I’m here to cast the first stone, anyway.  I stand guilty in just about any way you could charge me:  I eat at McDonalds and do not live a plastic-free life.  I have an iPhone and don’t know who made all my clothes.  I apathetically follow main-line news and therefore only hear about global calamities that effect white people -and then only the “big ones.”  I only sort of go to church, and have real doubts about a lot of the historicity and originality of the Bible.

But even with all my faults and all my doubts, I still believe in the message of radical love, and truly believe God wants us to dismantle any society that has become unjust. As unglamorous as it sounds, the best way to effect that sort of change is to do it small: brick by brick, or chapter by chapter.  Nature, society, and the economy all abhor a vacuum.  If I could snap my fingers and instantly end corn subsidies; outlaw gas-powered vehicles, and establish a universal basic income of $24,000 per person, the cascading effects of those changes would cause millions to starve, ignite a global war like you’ve never seen, and probably destroy the world. But that doesn’t make these ideas worthwhile goals, anyway, if we work towards them steadily and responsibly.  Asking – demanding – more power, resources, and respect from the people who have more and giving said things to those who have less.

I know I’m in a position of privilege and I’ll have to change, too.  Perhaps pay more in taxes, consume a little less or a little lower on the food and supply chains, make more room at the table for new voices to be heard.  But time and again it’s been proven that the more diverse an organization is, the better is survives.  Different ideas and problem solving skills can be put to work when they are allowed to exist, allowing for more innovation, responsiveness, organizational gain and overall satisfaction.  Isn’t that what we should want that for Christianity? Our country? Humanity?  It seems worth the trade-off.  Today I re-invite you to join me as I use the Bible to think about ways to make the changes the world so desperately needs.

Hosea 11 -The Love Demanded by a Baby

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
    and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
    the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
    and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
    taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
    it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
    with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
    a little child to the cheek,
    and I bent down to feed them.

“Will they not return to Egypt
    and will not Assyria rule over them
    because they refuse to repent?
A sword will flash in their cities;
    it will devour their false prophets
    and put an end to their plans.
My people are determined to turn from me.
    Even though they call me God Most High,
    I will by no means exalt them.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
    How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I treat you like Admah?
    How can I make you like Zeboyim?
My heart is changed within me;
    all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
    nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
    the Holy One among you.
    I will not come against their cities.
10 They will follow the Lord;
    he will roar like a lion.
When he roars,
    his children will come trembling from the west.
11 They will come from Egypt,
    trembling like sparrows,
    from Assyria, fluttering like doves.
I will settle them in their homes,”
    declares the Lord.

12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies,
    Israel with deceit.
And Judah is unruly against God,
    even against the faithful Holy One.

 

This is one of the most tender chapters read to date in this project, and I so, so identify with it as a parent.  Recently, I got mad at Betty.  She was whining about something her sister did (which was really nothing) while they played play-doh side by side.  I had had enough, and curtly told her to knock it off or I was going to take the play-doh away.  She started crying, but also picked up her toy scissors and started playing forlornly with the play-doh.  When she looked over at me with big, teary eyes while trying to cut the play-doh like I had shown her, I felt like a complete monster for yelling.  I simply could not be angry with her, even though she had been in the wrong.  Even when she is determined to turn from me, how can I give her up? How can I turn her over?  If God loves us like I love my girls, then this chapter must be divinely inspired.

We only have a few days of Advent left.  It is a time when we are preparing for the (second) coming of Christ.  We prepare for a Christ of terrible judgement, but also an infant-child Christ, and the tender analogies presented here reminded me of that.  In fact, it reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of writing about God.  In Kristin Swenson’s God of Earth, she reminds us what we do with babies: “Babies demand full attention and all of our energy. We fetch them things, smile when they do, and weep with exhaustion at their impossible demands.  We kiss their feet,” then she goes on to say, “Well played, God. To come to earth and be of earth, not as a gigantic dictator, not as a volcano, a great white whale, a celebrity princess or a hurricane — but as a baby.  Stroke of genius.”

And it is.  A baby, for all it’s helplessness, demands (and receives) adoration in a way that none of the great things listed above could.  I know this passage wasn’t written about Christ – it was written about the unruly and hard-headed children of Israel – but the similarities remain.  Not to get to sappy, but it is a beautiful circle of love:  God loves us as Xyr children, we love God the infant Christ.

We are all children of God.  I think I say that nearly every post.  But I want you to stop and think about that for a minute.  We are all children of God.  Beloved infants.  It is hard sometimes to do so, but try to remember that everyone, even the worst of us, was a helpless newborn. A chubby baby. An unsteady toddler.  A small and wondrous being, worthy of love.  At the very least this thought may help calm you down when someone in front of  you goes 10 MPH below the speed limit for 15 miles.  My hope is it helps you let go of any lingering resentments you may hold towards anyone who has hurt you in the past.

Lots of bad people are out in the world doing bad things, and this isn’t a plea to just paper over the worst so we don’t see it.  In fact, it’s kind of the opposite.  If you see everyone as a child loved, it is harder to stand by while those terrible things happen.  Would you want to see your baby in a border detention center?  Would you want to see your baby denied healthcare for a pre-existing condition? Would you want to see your baby hungry, cold, or lonely? Of course not, and that’s the way God feels about all of us.  This Advent, let’s prepare for the return of Christ – both terrible judge and lovable infant – by remembering our brothers and sisters in need.  If we love God, we need to love them, too.

Hosea 10 – Musings on Gender Fluidity

Israel was a spreading vine;
    he brought forth fruit for himself.
As his fruit increased,
    he built more altars;
as his land prospered,
    he adorned his sacred stones.
Their heart is deceitful,
    and now they must bear their guilt.
The Lord will demolish their altars
    and destroy their sacred stones.

Then they will say, “We have no king
    because we did not revere the Lord.
But even if we had a king,
    what could he do for us?”
They make many promises,
    take false oaths
    and make agreements;
therefore lawsuits spring up
    like poisonous weeds in a plowed field.
The people who live in Samaria fear
    for the calf-idol of Beth Aven.
Its people will mourn over it,
    and so will its idolatrous priests,
those who had rejoiced over its splendor,
    because it is taken from them into exile.
It will be carried to Assyria
    as tribute for the great king.
Ephraim will be disgraced;
    Israel will be ashamed of its foreign alliances.
Samaria’s king will be destroyed,
    swept away like a twig on the surface of the waters.
The high places of wickedness will be destroyed—
    it is the sin of Israel.
Thorns and thistles will grow up
    and cover their altars.
Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!”
    and to the hills, “Fall on us!”

“Since the days of Gibeah, you have sinned, Israel,
    and there you have remained.
Will not war again overtake
    the evildoers in Gibeah?
10 When I please, I will punish them;
    nations will be gathered against them
    to put them in bonds for their double sin.
11 Ephraim is a trained heifer
    that loves to thresh;
so I will put a yoke
    on her fair neck.
I will drive Ephraim,
    Judah must plow,
    and Jacob must break up the ground.
12 Sow righteousness for yourselves,
    reap the fruit of unfailing love,
and break up your unplowed ground;
    for it is time to seek the Lord,
until he comes
    and showers his righteousness on you.
13 But you have planted wickedness,
    you have reaped evil,
    you have eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you have depended on your own strength
    and on your many warriors,
14 the roar of battle will rise against your people,
    so that all your fortresses will be devastated—
as Shalman devastated Beth Arbel on the day of battle,
    when mothers were dashed to the ground with their children.
15 So will it happen to you, Bethel,
    because your wickedness is great.
When that day dawns,
    the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.

 
Oh hi it’s me again, two days in a row.  I realized last weekend that Christmas was a little over a week away, and I really, really wanted to finish the book of Hosea before Christmas.  When I started Hosea,I thought I’d have plenty of time, maybe be able to get back up to three postings a week with a few skipped, probably even have time to throw in a nice psalm or two…and here I am in crunch mode.  But seriously, I want to finish Hosea before Christmas, so a post a day, here we go!

Also, I am not ignoring the horrible imagery of mothers dashed to the ground with their children.  It is, unfortunately, a motif found in several places in the Bible.  So when we get to another one, we can sit with it for a while, if need be.  But today I wanted to focus briefly on something else.

Throughout the book of Hosea I’ve been paying attention to pronouns, and how they shift.  Of course, this chapter is a metaphor (as is much of this entire book), and not about a singular person, so we can only assign so much weight to pronoun inclusivity.  In other words, I don’t think 7th century BC Israel was a place known for it’s progressive views on gender.  But even taking that into account, the two kingdoms of Israel (Ephraim and Judah) are referred to in singular and plural pronouns, as well as male and female pronouns – all in this one chapter.  From he to they to it to you to her to them it’s difficult to follow exactly whom is being discussed, honestly.  I don’t know ancient Hebrew, but I would be interested to know how some of those pronouns translated.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns lately because I have a two-and-a-half year old at the (very normal) developmental age of getting pronouns wrong.  She refers to herself as “him” often and tends to call anyone whose name she does not know a “little boy” regardless of age or gender.  As she masters language this will change, but I have to say I find it kind of sweet.  She’s just trying to figure out people at a person by person level, and broad gender generalizations (as well as many other generalizations) don’t exist yet.  And those generalizations that do exist are still – for now – free from bias and based strictly based on observation.  For example, to her, Mommy is pink and Daddy is brown.  We are not “white” or “black” yet.  I know the day will soon come when we morph from pink and brown to white and black, but for now I’m enjoying her innocence.

A few years back I heard a pastor use female pronouns for God in a sermon for the first time.  And even though I liked it, it was jarring.  It was jarring simply because it was something I wasn’t used to hearing.  But I’m hoping that’s different with my girls.  I’m hoping any pronoun used for God will sound normal to them, because God is all-inclusive of pronouns, bigger than pronouns, if we’re honest.  Perhaps one day, Hosea will be seen as a more progressive book than it is viewed today, in part because it has these fluid pronouns. As an aside, it’s funny how popular opinions in Biblical studies can shift and sway – such as potential future views on Hosea. It’s something many see as a fault in the Bible, but I see it as proof that it is an ever-evolving text that always has some new and deeper meaning to reveal to us.

Hosea’s search for the right metaphor for his relationship with his God – whether it through his marriage with Gomer, or the constantly evolving imagery of Ephraim and Judah, or a parent-child relationship, has, I think, stumbled upon one of the greater truths that he didn’t know he was looking for: that God is inclusive of all.  Of the prophet and the prostitute, of every gender, of every person.  Hosea lacked the cultural vocabulary to describe it directly, but we can see it.  It is a message refined by Jesus hundreds of years later: everyone is a child of God, God loves us all, and therefore we should love our neighbor as ourselves – regardless of what pronoun they use.