Leviticus 04 – Do the Best You Can Until You Know Better

27 “‘If any member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, when they realize their guilt 28 and the sin they have committed becomes known, they must bring as their offering for the sin they committed a female goat without defect. 29 They are to lay their hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Do The Best You Can Until You Know Better

The first thing that came to my mind reading this chapter was one of Maya Angelou’s more famous quotes. You’ve probably heard it: “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” I like to think I’m a pretty smart person: I was 11th out of 400-some in my high school class, and missed graduating college with summa cum laude honors by two hundredths of a point. I’m also prideful and a little bit vain. All this to say, it was personally very embarrassing to realize I was not only participating in but also benefiting from lopsided and harmful phenomena like structural racism, to name just one. How could I, as such a “smart person,” miss something so obvious? How could I have committed such unintentional sins? I didn’t know what structural racism was fifteen years ago. I didn’t know there were anything but binary pronouns five years ago. I didn’t know I was sending plastic microfibers into the watershed every time I washed my yoga pants two years ago. But now I do know, and instead of getting defensive, I’m trying to do better.

America, as a whole, has a lot to atone for – from both intentional and unintentional sins. We are waking up, starting to know better, and now we have to do better. I read an analogy regarding sexist and racist actions. I forget where, but this medium article is the first that popped up in Google when I looked for it and does a good job going into the analogy in depth. In short, though: when one person steps on another’s toe, they remove their foot as soon as their attention is brought to it and apologize. There is no arguing about whether or not the step-ee’s pain is real or what the intentions of the stepper might have been. The stepper might be embarrassed for stepping on the other person’s toe, but the stepper’s feelings do not become the focus of the incident, nor does the stepper claim some first (or equal, or higher) right to the area of ground where the step-ee’s toes are.

Fellow white people: I think this is an especially good analogy to remember whenever you feel yourself getting defensive, or feel the urge to say something along the lines of “but not all white people…” Listen, the people I love most in the world, my husband and my kids, are black. You don’t get a much more intimate look at race relations than that. And even I have to remind myself sometimes that this isn’t about me, personally. And even I get it wrong, sometimes, too. And it’s embarrassing. But again, this isn’t about me. If we remember this metaphor in every arena where we may have unintentionally sinned but now know better, it may help us to actually do better. It’s time to start atoning.

The Parenting Analogy

Atoning is such a loaded word. But I want to go on the record as saying that atonement doesn’t have to be a punishment, it can be a beautiful thing! Let’s get back to our actual Bible reading here. It lays out the proper sin offering for unintentional sins. I’m sure this is a chapter that many have cited making the case against God. What sort of deity gets angry with you for committing a sin without knowing? And then you have to atone for an unintentional sin with an offering? It sounds like you’re being set up to fail, and sounds like a good way to instill paranoia in generations of people.

But remember, God is our good, loving parent. And if you look at the sin offering in that way, it’s just a good parent doing good parenting. There are lots of things my girls do without malice that are still not “right.” Like toddler-sized versions of unintentional sins, if you will. For example, my youngest started plugging her ears during grace at the table. Who knows why she started doing that, but it’s rude, so I corrected her. Now she knows it’s not a thing to do. We’re still working on picking noses, uncovered sneezing, and not wanting to wear a mask in public. My girls do these things out of ignorance, not malice. But their actions can have a real impact on public health, so I’m teaching them not only to know better, but to do better. Collectively, as a country, we are being called to do better on many fronts, from COVID prevention to Black Lives Matter to global warming. We have sinned, even if we didn’t know it. And maybe it wasn’t even us, but our leaders who have sinned. Regardless of blame or intention, we now have been made aware of these myriad of errors, and we must atone.

Additionally, I want to point out God is not angry. Yes, there is lots of talk of “doing something forbidden” and “guilt,” but there is no mention of God’s anger. Much like I’m not angry when my five year old picks her nose. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make her stop, and probably make her go wash her hands. Just like with my girls, this sin offering is part of the learning process.

Finally, I want to point out that the sin offerings described here are practically identical to earlier offerings qualified as “an aroma pleasing to the Lord. This chapter doesn’t use that exact terminology, but I don’t think it’s too far a leap to say that God is well pleased (perhaps even proud of us?) when we recognize our wrongs and correct them. We please God when we make amends because we act as Xyr agents in the world when we do so.

Growing in faith and action

If we stop pointing fingers, saying “it wasn’t us!” or “I’m not like that!” If we stop being defensive and actually buckle down and do the work of atoning, look at what we stand to gain: a healthy planet, a healthy populace, equality among all people, and so much more. These are lofty goals, but the road to all of them starts by knowing better, and doing better. Let’s not let fear or ignorance stand in our way. Growth can be scary and uncomfortable – remember being a teenager? But would you really want to be proverbially stuck at twelve forever? Sure, not having to pay taxes or make dinner every night was nice, but just think of all the things you’d miss out on, stuck as a pre-teen. Let’s grow! Let’s learn! There’s literally nothing to lose, but there is everything to gain.

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!

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.

If you are enjoying what you read 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.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!

Job 16 – Do Not Cover My Blood

“Earth, do not cover my blood;
    may my cry never be laid to rest!
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Just like Job’s friends, collectively we have made miserable comforters.  Job says “God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me to the clutches of the wicked.”  He points out the visceral signs of his unjust punishment: “my face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes, yet my hands have been free of violence, and my prayer pure.”  Even so, his friends stand idly by, offering false piety and thinly veiled scorn instead of truly loving help.  Couldn’t Job’s words be used to condemn us, in the broadest sense of the word, in our apathy towards our fellow man?

I’ve been paying more attention to the news as the corona virus continues to spread, and as I learn to use Twitter better (it’s not my favorite social media but I feel it necessary for the blog…Instagram is my natural habitat).  This renewed awareness reminded me of all the unanswered cries that are still being called out, and I’m ashamed of how little I’ve cared to know.

The rapid spread of the corona virus is a big deal, I’m not trying to make light of it.  But please, do not panic, and do not put your compassion on hold.  A few stats from Johns Hopkins to put things in perspective: As of February 26, 2020, there have been 81,322 cases reported world-wide, with 2,770 deaths (none of which have yet occurred in the US).  The flu, on the other hand, a virus mutation we see pop up every year that hasn’t caused global panic since World War I, has an estimated one billion cases worldwide per year, with up to 646,000 deaths annually, worldwide.  They are sobering statistics, and I truly debated sharing them because it may do more to fan the flames of fear than to calm them.  My hope is that it will remind you, my reader, that we function in a world full of contractible, deadly viruses already.  It is a fact of life that demands more compassion from us, not less-just make sure to wash your hands.

Don’t let the corona virus blind you to the ongoing injustices in the world. A quick run-down of the stories I’ve been following.  And again, there are a lot more that we could get into, but this is what I’ve been able to read about in between the hustle and bustle of daily life with two kids and a farm:

  1. The latest humanitarian crisis in Syria – there is a lot of biased information out there.  Just a simple search on the subject returns not only articles from the BBC, which I generally trust, but also front-page hits from Russian outfits like Sputnik and RT, which I don’t trust as much.  Given our own president’s lukewarm (at best) interest in Syria, it’s not a topic that gets the attention appropriate to the magnitude of the crisis.  As best as I can gather, almost one million people have been recently displaced by fighting in the northern province of Idlib.  It is winter, and people are having to spend nights in below-freezing temperatures without food or shelter.  Children are dying from cold, others are so traumatized they’ve stopped speaking.  Pregnant mothers are under enough stress to cause premature births and miscarriages.
  2. The ongoing border crisis, especially as it pertains to children – Technically, the Trump administration ended its policy of separating families at the border in June 2018.  But over 1,000 families have still been separated since that time, including the heartbreaking case of the parents who were deported, after being promised as part of their deportation deal to be reunited with their four-month-old son, without him.
  3. Wet’suwet’en blockades in Canada – In short, the Wet’suwet’en have been protesting Canada and oil companies seizing unceded lands for pipeline projects.  Part of this protest has taken the form of rail blockades, which are seriously impacting the economic realities of Canada.  It is hard to get truly impartial news on this issue, as well.  It’s receiving very little main-stream media coverage from outside Canada and most Canadian news sources are skewed to favor the Canadian government and Canadian business interests.  I support the Wet’suwet’en people’s right to defend their territory because it is the sovereign right of any country or people to do so when threatened with invasion.  I further support it because they are doing important ecological work in protecting fragile ecosystems from the damages that come with pipelines, including leaks and spills, groundwater contamination, and habitat disturbance.  The IG account of @smogelgem provides a real-time account of what is actually happening, with opportunities to support the protesters whether you live near or far.

We all get compassion fatigue.  We all need to take care of ourselves – you can’t pour from an empty cup, etc etc.  But we can also all try better.  Do a little more.  Especially at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic.  You see, I’m worried that this corona outbreak is going to make people become insular, less willing to reach out and help those in need and more likely to protect their own interests.  This is not the time to be callous.

I try very hard not to ask you to do more than I do, so let me list for you the mini-activisms I did while writing this blogpost.  Actually, before I do, I want to remind you that I do not list this stuff to brag.  I just want to show that you really can do it, too, even if I have to guilt you into it.  I currently have a cold, as does my oldest.  I’m trying to stay on top of laundry and make dinner every night and get insurance for our new commercial kitchen and deal with the leak in my freezer trailer, but I still made time to make a little effort.  If I can do this, then so can you:

I made a small donation to the White Helmets, a boots-on-the-ground organization in Syria dedicated to helping innocent civilians.  I also called my representatives, saying that I think more needs to be done to support Syrian civilians and the work of the White Helmets.  I did my research, and read the stories coming not only out of Syria but from the border, and from Canada. More than anything, I’m talking about it.  Again, I say this not to brag, but to show you what a hassled mom with limited bandwidth can manage.  I may not be able to be out there marching in protests, pulling people from bombed rubble, or providing pro-bono legal council, but I can support those who are.  So now I ask you, can you make a small donation to the White Helmets (the IRC is another good one)? Can you share a #wetsuwetenstrong post on Instagram? Can you call your representatives and tell them that children being held in detention centers at the border is unacceptable?  Together, we can do our part to make sure the cries of the downtrodden are never laid to rest, but answered.

If you are enjoying what you read 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.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!