Hosea 09 – Stewardship Callings

5 What will you do on the day of your appointed festivals,

    on the feast days of the Lord? (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Kind of a rough start to a blog entry the week before Christmas, right?  But this chapter does ask us an important question: what will we do on the day of our appointed festivals? On the feast days of our Lord?  Will we participate in hollow ritual, whether that be religious or secular in nature, or will we remember our true callings?  Throughout these recent chapters – indeed, a major message that comes from numerous prophets – is that God does not want lip service, God wants our hearts and minds, our true dedication.

But what does that mean, exactly?  For me, it means stewardship.  I believe the best way to show our love of God is to care for what God cares for: Xyr creations.  The Earth and all its inhabitants.  So stewardship can take many forms, as you might imagine.  That’s one of the beautiful things about it: you can find what makes you passionate and follow that path.  And no one path is “better” or “right.”  There are many, many problems that need to be addressed in this world.

For example, my two major motivators are environmental stewardship and combating racism/xenophobia.  Those are broad topics, and I’ve explored them further I’ve zero-ed in on what really, really interests me.  First, within environmental stewardship is the issue of food waste.  Did you know that somewhere between 162-218 BILLION DOLLARS of food waste is generated in America each year?  That’s food that is thrown out at grocery stores and restaurants, by individual consumers, and the stuff that is left to rot in the field because it doesn’t meet harvesting standards (but is perfectly edible).  Just one third of that wasted food would be enough to feed the 50 million food-insecure individuals in this country.  Instead, it is in landfills producing methane, a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming. It is a sin of excess compounded by a sin of carelessness.  Did you also know that there are two bills that have been introduced to Congress that would go a long way towards combating this waste….but they have languished since being introduced.  (It’s the Food Recovery Act and the Food Date Labeling Act, both introduced by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine, you can read more about them here.)  You can bet I call my reps about those bills, and spend a lot of time sharing facts like the ones above to spread the word.  And while I’m far from perfect, I try to combat food waste at home, as well: buying only what we need, using leftovers in the next meal’s cooking, and composting as a last resort.

Second, racism and xenophobia, which need to be attacked from so many levels.  The issue-within-the-issue, if you will, that really gets to me is governmental policies towards refugees.  We are a country of plenty – as illustrated above by the sheer waste we are able to generate – and there is no reason we can’t reallocate resources to help those in need, including incoming refugees.  I wrote more about why this issue is important to me last year, in this blog post.  Again, I call my representatives, speak up on this blog and other forums, and donate when I can to organizations like IRC and RAICES.

But that’s just what I’m passionate about.  And it’s OK if that’s not what you’re passionate about.  My plea today is to just find what makes you passionate.  Some other quick examples:  My priest in Charlottesville cares deeply about healthcare in rural communities, as well as the rights and well-being of those in institutionalized care (such as the elderly or mentally ill).  I have friends passionate about criminal justice reform.  Others are dedicated to plastic-free lifestyles and spreading the word on the benefits of that, both personal and environmental.  Many of my favorite accounts on Instagram are devoted to fighting fast fashion with it’s exploitative nature and environmental impacts.

Like I said, there’s a whole world of problems to be fixed.  And that can be scary, when you think about trying to fix all of them. But God does not ask that of you.  God simply wants you to be a part of the larger picture.  When we are selfish, greedy, careless, we turn from God, as the ill-fated people in this chapter.  But if we turn towards eachother, towards stewardship, we can avoid the horrors of this chapter, and that is something to rejoice.

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Hosea 08 – Michael Vick and the NFL

“Put the trumpet to your lips!
    An eagle is over the house of the Lord
because the people have broken my covenant
    and rebelled against my law.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

The NFL is like an idolic religion for some.  A calf that a metalworker has made, you might say.  And that is our jumping off point for today, because there has been a lot of talk about Michael Vick getting recognized at the upcoming Pro Bowl.

Let me just go on record as saying, what Michael Vick did was atrocious.  I have pitbulls myself, and it just shatters my heart to think about those poor dogs he put to fighting.  Do I think he should be recognized at the Pro Bowl?  I honestly don’t know.  My knee-jerk reaction is “no.”  But, he’s done prison time, he’s paid fines, paid for some of the dogs’ rehabilitation, and has partnered with the director of the Humane Society to speak at anti-dogfighting forums (where he pays his own expenses, by the way).  This article is a few years old, but does a good job painting a fair picture of Vick.  And, as the author says, dogs themselves live in the moment, wanting to forgive and love and get back to playing….so maybe if a dog can forgive Vick, then we can to.

With that out of the way, let me also say that Vick is just a symptom of a larger problem that is the NFL.  Chris and I stopped watching football years ago.  We love the sport: Chris played it in high school and the Superbowl has consistently been one of my favorite events of the year since I’ve been young.  (My birthday is January 27th, so it was always around my birthday and felt like a second party.)  But the NFL just has too many problems to keep watching it.  Let’s list some, shall we?

  1. Openly racist names and mascots, particularly the Washington Redskins.
  2. Roethlisberger, twice accused of rape (one case settled in civil court, one where the prosecutor refused to press charges), still starts for the Steelers.
  3. The NFL (an organization that makes over 10 BILLION dollars a year) was exempt from federal taxes until 2014.
  4. The NFL does not care – at least, not care enough – about the players’ health and safety.  Autopsies of 202 deceased NFL players showed that 99% suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Side note: not all these guys are millionaires. Apparently NFL retirement benefits suck and many face financial hardship.
  5. Their charitable causes are often just marketing campaigns in pretty packaging.  Let’s take Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Here’s all the official NFL gear that you can get to that end. Some proceeds may go to breast-cancer awareness, but you know their making a pretty penny off of it, too.  And how many new viewers do you think the NFL got when all that started? Hm?
  6. Selective blindness to player personal conduct.  Their suspension system makes no sense.  Some of my favorites: Tom Brady for cheating (remember Deflategate?) for only 4 games in 2015; Adam Jones for attacking a stripper and threatening a security guard’s life for one season in 2007; Mike Reilly for vehicular manslaughter for one season in 1983.
  7. And the biggie: Self-reinforcing institutionalized racism runs rampant in the NFL and its fans.  Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick – two black men – are the ones getting people riled up.  Not the (white) rapist Roethlisberger or Dan Snyder (white owner of the Redskins), who flat out refuses to engage in a name-change discussion.
  8. Everything else: personal conduct of the team owners, the league’s steroid policy, problems with the officials…you get the point.

If this chapter of Hosea has one overarching message, it’s that God doesn’t want lip-service, God wants your heart.  So wringing your hands over Michael Vick and talking about how terrible he is but not acknowledging the larger problem?  It means you’re just looking for something to talk about.  Are you actually worried about Michael Vick’s behavior, and perhaps the NFL at large?  Then stop watching.  I’m not asking you to physically join the protests, which do happen fairly frequently over various NFL-related issues.  Simply, don’t tune in.  Don’t tune in for the Pro-Bowl, as many anti-Vick commentators are claiming they will do.  But then, don’t tune in for the Superbowl either.  Then don’t tune in next pre-season.  There are plenty of other things to watch or do on Sunday.  This is literally the easiest form of activism you can possibly do: not doing something.  I miss it, I do, but seriously folks, what do you think the NFL would do if viewers and attendees dropped by 50% for a season?  Maybe even for a single Superbowl? They’d be scrambling to get some changes made.  We’d see more personal accountability from the players and the owners, more concern for the player’s health and safety, more inclusivity and less racism.  Then we could all get back to watching football after church again, and not have to feel guilty about it.

***

(Also, since it’s Monday, I wanted to let you know I called my representatives.  I talked about the Border Crisis again.  If you want to do the same, here is the script I made for today’s call:  Hello, my name is _________ and I’m calling from zip-code _______. Nine thousand people travelling across the Southern Border *as families* were arrested in November, which is the start of the slow season.  Defunding of DHS programs like MPP, and increased funding of the Office of Refugee Resettlement needs to be addressed before refugee numbers start to surge again in the spring.)

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Job 06 – The Myth of Hard Work and Success

Then Job replied:

“If only my anguish could be weighed
    and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
    no wonder my words have been impetuous.
The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
    my spirit drinks in their poison;
    God’s terrors are marshaled against me.
Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
    or an ox bellow when it has fodder?
Is tasteless food eaten without salt,
    or is there flavor in the sap of the mallow[a]?
I refuse to touch it;
    such food makes me ill.

“Oh, that I might have my request,
    that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me,
    to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
10 Then I would still have this consolation—
    my joy in unrelenting pain—
    that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
    What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone?
    Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself,
    now that success has been driven from me?

14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend
    forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
    as the streams that overflow
16 when darkened by thawing ice
    and swollen with melting snow,
17 but that stop flowing in the dry season,
    and in the heat vanish from their channels.
18 Caravans turn aside from their routes;
    they go off into the wasteland and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema look for water,
    the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.
20 They are distressed, because they had been confident;
    they arrive there, only to be disappointed.
21 Now you too have proved to be of no help;
    you see something dreadful and are afraid.
22 Have I ever said, ‘Give something on my behalf,
    pay a ransom for me from your wealth,
23 deliver me from the hand of the enemy,
    rescue me from the clutches of the ruthless’?

24 “Teach me, and I will be quiet;
    show me where I have been wrong.
25 How painful are honest words!
    But what do your arguments prove?
26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
    and treat my desperate words as wind?
27 You would even cast lots for the fatherless
    and barter away your friend.

28 “But now be so kind as to look at me.
    Would I lie to your face?
29 Relent, do not be unjust;
    reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.[b]
30 Is there any wickedness on my lips?
    Can my mouth not discern malice?

Job is speaking for all the downtrodden here: all the blamed victims, all the casualties of an unfair economic system, anyone ever harmed by institutionalized racism.

I remember watching a news story on homelessness years ago, and a woman said, “it’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.” Her words came to mind when I read v. 13: “Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?” It is comforting to believe that we are in charge of our destinies, that if we just work a little harder, put the hours in, do the extra assignment, that we will be successful.  If that is true, then yes, we are all masters of our own fate.  But sadly, that is not true.

Before anyone rolls their eyes at my whining, let me just tell you a bit about how much I do believe in hard work.  I am up and writing this blog by 5:30 am to fit it into my day.  I have a whole series of pictures of me you can see (and a whole bunch of undocumented moments!) I call #farmingwhilemomming where I’m literally working two jobs at once.  Before Betty was one, I was the one who sifted through the mountains of paper work to get the farm a USDA microloan.  I am out there, working a little harder, putting the hours in, doing the extra assignment.  (So is my hubs, by the way: as I write this it is currently 5:57 am and he is up checking emails before he goes out to do farm chores)  I don’t say this to brag, I say this to silence anyone who might be tempted to brush off my argument with a “just have to work harder” type of response.

We work hard, and have seen success for it, but Chris and I face unique challenges as a black man and as a woman.  Chris talks a lot about his experiences elsewhere, so I’m going to mainly talk about my experiences here. Being in the predominantly male occupation of farming, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told I’m pretty smart “for a lady,” or been mansplained something I already know, or had someone be surprised that I can drive stick/park a 350/lift a bag of feed.  I educate myself about everything from how a freezer works to engine anatomy because I’m very suspicious that the service I might get is going to be different or less than a man because, as a woman, people expect I won’t know better.  That sounds cynical, and it is.  Fortunately we’ve met some very nice people since moving here and I trust my regular mechanics – but it took time to get there, and there are definitely services I’ve walked away from because I felt they looked down on me.

If you don’t see how this might effect my success, if you are still tempted to say “well, everyone has to be careful about who they trust their car care to,” or “you should be proud that you prove them wrong,” let me spell it out.  Lesser service, or, conversely, more service than I need because someone thinks they can up-sell an unsuspecting woman, costs me time and money, which hurts my bottom line.  And those same people who are surprised that I can drive stick or feel the need to talk down to me?  That’s the definition of a microaggression. Again, I can just hear the eyes rolling, and I’ll admit I haven’t found any studies on sexist microaggressions, but a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine did find that people who experience a high level of racial microaggressions (aka, the kind Chris has to face on a daily basis) age faster on a cellular level.  I wouldn’t be surprised if sexist microaggressions have the same effect.  So not only is institutionalized sexism and racism potentially hurting our business, it is also actually hurting our health.

And all of my ranting is coming from an able-bodied, cis-gendered, white, upper-middle-class individual.  Stop for a minute and try to layer on a few more other labels, if you will, and think about the challenges I might face if I were, say, a gay black woman? Or a disabled poor person? Or a dark-skinned Muslim immigrant? Can you begin to see how society might be stacked against me?  Job is right in calling out his friends in their calling out of him.  “Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze?” Job asks in v. 12.  Here’s another quick aside for you: there’s even a documented racial bias in pain treatment, with people of color receiving less pain management than their white counterparts.  Is their flesh made of bronze? Is theirs the strength of stone?  Sometimes society seems to think so.

Job accuses his friends in v. 27 with the words, “you would even cast lots for the fatherless.” I think I’ve mentioned this before, but widows and orphans were the most disadvantaged people (except maybe lepers?) in society back then.  They were without any protector, any safety net.  Tell me, can you see any parallels between Job’s friends and the “haves” in today’s society?  The wealthiest 1% continue to receive tax cuts at the expense of schools, medical research, and especially social support programs like SNAP. We, as a society, are taking people’s boots away, then asking them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Is this what God would want? Is this what Jesus would stand for?  Job has the right, as he says, to bray like a wild donkey and bellow like an ox without fodder – for his sustenance is gone.  We, too, have that right.  If you are in a position of privilege, lend your voice to those that are not.  If you are not in a position of privilege, speak up (if it is safe to do so).  We have a long, long way to go.  But journeys are made one step at a time.  If we have God to guide us and each other to lean on, we can make it. Together, we can make it.