Hosea 12 – Impeachment is Just an Asterisk

Ephraim feeds on the wind;
    he pursues the east wind all day
    and multiplies lies and violence.
He makes a treaty with Assyria
    and sends olive oil to Egypt.

(Read the rest of the chapter here!)

 

Don’t let activism exhaustion set in (aka, don’t confuse winning the battle with winning the war)

This chapter is a political criticism, more than anything. It opens with Hosea bashing Israel’s foreign policy: “chasing the wind” is fruitless because you’ll never catch it, and that is what Israel is doing by bouncing back and forth between treaties with Egypt and Assyria.  Hosea then goes on to give a short recount of Israel’s mythologized national history – not unlike an American evoking the more sensational tales of George Washington – in an effort to contrast the poor moral fiber of Israel’s current political climate.  Unlike today, Hosea (and indeed, all of Israel) mixed religion and politics, claiming a return to God would save not only souls but national policy as well.  This difference aside, I still thought it would be a good time to offer up my own little political criticism, since that’s what this chapter is all about.

The recent impeachment of Donald J. Trump is historic, and I don’t want to take from that. He is only the third president to be impeached in 230 years of US presidents.  But what does impeachment mean?  Right now, not much more than an asterisk beside Trump’s name in future history books, just like Johnson and Clinton.  In truth, this impeachment is small potatoes compared to the more systemic problems facing this country:  voting districts are still gerrymandered, thousands are incarcerated for minor crimes, children are still in cages at the border, and McConnellism (more on that in a minute) is the new norm.

To pull from recent history: I don’t want the impeachment to become another Standing Rock.  Remember Standing Rock and the NoDAPL pipeline?  We all celebrated when, in December 2016, the pipeline’s easement was denied…and then it became a closed matter for most of the country (I’ll admit – myself included).  Barely a word was uttered on national outlets when Trump reversed the easement denial with an executive order and construction began in February 2017.  And guess what: the pipeline leaked five times in six months, exactly the kind of disaster that the Sioux of Standing Rock were worried about.  But the initial fight had already been won, our national liberal conscious assuaged, and as a country we couldn’t be bothered to keep fighting.  Long story short, don’t confuse winning one battle with winning the war.  It’s exhausting to keep fighting.  But it is so, so necessary if you care about your Earth, your fellow humans, your God.

Why progressive Christians need to be politically active

If you want something political to focus upon, it’s McConnellism.  Mitch McConnell has done more to hurt the American Democracy than Trump ever could.  There are multiple articles on this from a myriad of sources: pick which one appeals to you.  But in a nutshell, McConnell has made it his policy to put Republican wins over any other priority: refusing to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nomination (and I’m not even sure how many Federal judge nominations), refused to cooperate with election-tampering investigations (even lifting sanctions on Putin allies under FBI investigation), and now coordinating impeachment strategy with White House lawyers.  McConnell doesn’t care what the American people want, or even what is good for this country.  He just wants the Republican party (and his own self) to hold on to as much power as possible, no matter the cost.

Jostling for power is a normal part of politics.  In fact, the Founding Fathers counted upon it-hence all the checks and balances.  Now, however, the political culture in Washington has changed: it is power for power’s sake – not for advancing the good of the country. I think getting Mitch McConnell out of the Senate would be a great start.  But it’s going to take more than that, because the next Senate leader can simply follow McConnell’s example and keep up the race to the bottom.

I think the only thing that is going to make a real difference is if more – and I mean a lot more – people become politically engaged on a much more regular basis.  And this will take time, too, which is discouraging. We all like fast results, that’s why fad diets continue to be a thing.  But we can’t get discouraged to the point that we stop fighting.  The well-being of too many people (both in this country and out of it) are at stake.  Vote. Call your representatives.  And don’t forget local politics: town halls and city councils are great ways to get your voice heard.  Join marches and demonstrations.  Start fundraisers – it’s so easy to do a small birthday fundraiser on Facebook now for a cause you believe in.  If you feel really moved, you can volunteer for a campaign or polling station.  Here’s a great list of even more ways to become more politically engaged.  It may feel like we don’t have a lot of power because it takes so long for things to change. And I won’t deny there’s a lot of corruption that we’re up against.  But popular uprisings happen all the time through-out history.  And if we are loud enough, we can demand change.

Now why, you might be thinking, is a religious blog getting so political? Aren’t we supposed to have a separation between Church and State?  Yes, we have that separation. But 1.) I’m not in office nor am I running for office. 2.) I’m not trying to dictate anyone’s religious beliefs.  I’m simply saying that, as a Christian (hell, as a decent human being) the hollowing out of American democracy and all the racism/xenophobia/sexism/environmental destruction that goes with it are issues you should care about; AND here is a way that we can make a positive change.  Government is able to make broad policy decisions for the whole country that lead to the most amount of change in the least amount of time.  (Imagine how much plastic pollution would decrease if Styrofoam and plastic bags were outlawed at a national level.) Political change is not the whole fight (think how long it took some school districts to de-segregate after Brown v. Board of Education), but it is a large, large portion of said fight.  Don’t let that fight stop with the impeachment.  Keep fighting for the issues that are important to you.  You can bet your ass that this liberal Christian is going to be active in the political process and use my faith as a sounding board, and you should do so, too.

Matthew 5:38-42 – An Eye for an Eye

FYI this is a rather swear-y post with more than one F-bomb. If that isn’t your thing, you may just want to skip this one.

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

This part of the Bible always bothered me.  It bothered me that Jesus would so meekly submit to wrong-doing, and ask us to give away everything, to literally stand naked and helpless, in order to be a good Christian.  Then I heard a different interpretation of the “turn the other cheek” admonition.  I don’t remember where I originally heard it -perhaps on the History Channel years ago, but best I can re-trace it now, it seems to come from the writings of Dr. Walter Wink.  To summarize: In Jesus’ time, it was acceptable and normal to reprimand a subservient person (a wife, a slave) with a backhand slap from your right hand.  This specification is important, because one’s left hand was reserved only for unclean tasks.  So, if your master or husband slapped you across the right cheek with the back of their right hand, and you then offer them your left cheek, they either have to use their left hand to back-slap you, inherently admitting their actions are unclean and wrong, or straight up attack you with an open palmed attack.  Now, this certainly doesn’t get the slap-ee out of trouble, if anything, it invites more pain to come, but it does make the point I’m a person, damn you, pay attention!  In other words, non-violent resistance.

Nonviolent resistance is what these four verses are all about.  Another article I read pointed out the very specific examples used by Jesus are extreme illustrations.  Remember, Jesus does love hyperbole.  Perhaps these exact instances will never happen to you, but you can apply the principles in your own life.  First example: If you are being sued for your clothing, you probably are very poor and lack anything else of value.  By handing over all your clothes, standing naked in the street becomes a non-violent testament to the unfairness of the law and the hard-heartedness of the person suing you.  If you are being forced into service for one mile, walking two with the enforcer allows for one full mile of uncomfortable thought on their part.

Additionally, the translation “do not resist an evil person” is not fully agreed upon, both the literal translation and it’s meaning.  Some, like Dr. Wink, think it simply cautions us against the use of violence.  Others think it should be translated closer to something like “adopt a defensive position.”  Either way, it does not mean meek acceptance of how the world is.

Jesus is asking a lot of us in the passage.  I say that with all sincerity and gravity.  He is asking us to adhere to nonviolence, yes, but definitely not meekness.  He is asking us the very opposite.  He is asking us to put our instinct of self-preservation aside, and to stand up to the wrongs we face.  Look your accuser in the eye, and make them pay some fucking attention.  This is scary, and can result in very real physical harm.  Just think of all the Civil Rights protesters who were water cannoned, attacked by dogs, and harassed by Klansman.  Think of all the women who have had acid thrown on them for their audacity to say no to a suitor or report their rape.

Thank God we haven’t had anything that terrifying happen to us, but recently, Chris and I got a small taste of what it’s like to be the subject of someone’s maleficence.  Someone, we don’t know who, filed a bogus Worker’s Comp claim on us.  There are militant vegans who are opposed to animal husbandry in general with whom Chris has exchanged words.  There are a bunch of Good Old Boys who Chris has pissed off in his writings about race and what it means to be a farmer and black.  And who knows who else we have pissed off being an inter-racial, inter-faith couple with loud opinions.  So take your pick.  Chris had to go to court and prove that we are not a multi-state business employing over two dozen people (we just got our first employee, other than ourselves, last year, and we’re definitely only farming in Virginia).  And it was scary.  We didn’t know what we were up against.  Turns out some jackass just turned in a bunch of pictures of people from our own social media, including a picture of Chris’ grandfather on a tractor taken long before Chris was even born, citing him as an “employee.”  So it got thrown out.  But when I called my mom to tell her about the outcome, she asked if we were going to be more careful about what we put out on social media.  Fuck no, we’re not going to be more careful about what we put out on social media!  Ok, I didn’t swear at my mom, but I just get so angry thinking that someone was trying to scare us into silence.  To whatever fuckface tried to that, guess what: We’re going to keep at it.  You might be able to wound us, you might even find a way to shut down the farm completely, but you’ll never stop us.  We have the safety net of family, careers we could fall back into should farming fail, entrepreneurial spirits and just enough recklessness and faith to keep up our nonviolent resistance to the bitter end.

What injustices do you see in the world that you can stand up to?  That’s a huge question.  But it is one that Jesus asks of us.  If you need to work up your courage, I suggest reading my post about pluralistic ignorance (how more people than you think privately disagree with an idea or situation, but lack the courage to speak up about it). That post also has four ways you can act against injustice without speaking, if confrontation scares you shitless.  But the point is to act.  Do not sit meekly by. Wherever and whenever you are able, it is our duty, if we proclaim to be Christian, to resist the injustices we see in this world.  So get out there.  Resist.

Job 12 – A Warning to Those at Ease

3 But I have a mind as well as you;
    I am not inferior to you.
    Who does not know all these things?

“I have become a laughingstock to my friends,
    though I called on God and he answered—
    a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!
Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune
    as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

 

A  warning to those in power

The Bible is full of warnings for the “big guy” to get their act right.  One of my favorites is in Isaiah chapter 32, his warning to “complacent women.” Basically all of the prophets warn for those in power to stop being so corrupt and turn back to God.  And it’s a warning that still needs to be heard today.

In this warning, Job once again gives voice to the downtrodden the world over.  “I am not inferior to you,” Job tells his friends in v. 3 (and again at the beginning of the next chapter).  And I think v. 5 might be my favorite line of this whole book so far, where Job calls them out on their sanctimonious bullshit: “Those at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.”  Basically, “you don’t know what it’s like, I’m over here drowning and you’re trying to offer me swim lessons. Throw me a freaking life saver!”

The whole second half of this chapter can be read as a warning to Job’s friends, who are a stand-in for people in power just as Job is a stand-in for the downtrodden.  “To God belongs wisdom and power,” (v. 13) Job declares – something his friends have been quoting at him the whole time.  But the difference is they were using it to try and suppress Job while upholding their own righteousness, while Job is reminding them – and us – that even our own righteousness is not enough to stand up to God.  “He leads priests away stripped and overthrows men long established, He silences the lips of trusted advisers and takes away discernment of elders [v. 19-20]….He makes nations great, and destroys them [v. 23].”  This is one big reminder that even those who have the appearance of power and security, like Job’s friends, are not immune to correction from God.

Blessed be the thorn in my side

I feel I am blessed, because I stand between two worlds: a world of privilege and a world of need.  I am white, cis-gender, able-bodied, and middle class.  I am also female, the mother of a special-needs child with crap insurance (goodbye, $700 every time we go to the developmental pediatrician), and a farmer whose livelihood is directly tied to the vagaries of climate change, predators, and agricultural policy.  So while I have certain comforts–certain privileges, if you will, I never feel fully secure.  Why is this a blessing? Because it helps me to remember others in need, just as Paul’s affliction kept him grounded in reality. (You can read about Paul’s thorn in his side, as he calls it, in 2 Corinthians chapter 12.)  It is easy for me to identify with people who are suffering.  Are you struggling to pay your medical bills? I feel you – reference my developmental pediatrician statement above.  Are you struggling with a condition some people don’t even recognize – such as an “invisible” disease like MS or fibromyalgia or a little-heard of (and therefore dismissed) disorder like Executive Dysfunction?  Again, I feel you – even nowadays not everyone recognizes that Autism is a real thing.  I found a hateful blog post recently where someone claimed individuals with ASD are “retards” who are “possessed by the devil” because their parents are sinners. I just pray that man never has any grandchildren who get diagnosed and have to suffer though his vitriol.  And certainly being in a interracial, interfaith marriage demands a high level of empathy from both of us.

As an example of how this standing between two worlds extends into promoting the rights of others: I’m not gay, but I do know what it’s like to have society disapprove of your marriage.  Not that long ago – I’m talking 1967, when my dad was a teenager and Chris’ dad was already in his mid-twenties, interracial marriage was illegal in our home-state of Virginia.  (They even made a movie about it.)  If two people care for each other, want to build a life and a family together, want to spread love in this world that so desperately needs it, why would we stop it? To borrow Job’s words, they are not inferior to me, and I will not have contempt for their misfortune.  So I support gay marriage.

Doing (just a little) more

I’ve talked about examining your privilege before, but I’m going to mention it again, because Lent is a great time to do it, and it’s actually a great practice in gratitude, too.  Think about all the things you’re grateful for.  Some examples could be good health, your family, or a new job. And then, just think about those who lack that particular blessing.  Counterpoint examples could be those suffering poor health or mental illness, children of all ages in the foster care system, and those struggling with unemployment.  None of these seem particularly controversial on the surface, but dig a little deeper and our society often has contempt for these groups:  I can’t afford insurance that would cover mental health services for my (otherwise healthy!!!) daughter with ASD.  Funding is being cut for Health and Human Services, the government agency responsible for the Administration of Children and Families, Head Start programs, and TANF (all which benefit foster children and children in at-risk situations).  The stigma against unemployed people has been documented in a controlled study by UCLA.  None of these are actions of love, but actions of contempt.

I get it, not everyone is going to be a social justice warrior.  Some just don’t have the time or inclination, but that doesn’t make them bad people.  There are lots of legitimate reasons a person may not be active in implementing change: raising a family, starting a business, caring for a sick loved one, struggling to make ends meet themselves.  But even little actions make a difference.  What if everyone made just one (more) phone call to their representatives about an issue that they heard on the news?  What if everyone donated just $10 (more) to a charity of their choice? What if everyone bought one less thing made of plastic, or one more thing from a female entrepreneur?  I don’t know what would happen, but I bet it would be good.  So today I’m challenging you to do a little more to make a difference. I know it’s hard, with everyone and everything asking “more” of us, but like I said, the steps can be little to start.  I’d love to hear what little steps you’re taking to make the world a better place, perhaps you might inspire someone else to do the same thing.  Above all else today, let us not have contempt for other’s misfortune, for they are not inferior to us.  Let us not be too at ease, for then we ourselves are at risk of the greater misfortune of God’s displeasure.  We have the chance to be agents of God’s love for all mankind – let’s take it.