Leviticus 05 – Learning, Action, and a word on Gender Equality

If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible. (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

In the middle of drafting this post I found out Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. It’s a terrible setback for achieving equality in this country. I am grieved and worried by this loss, as I know many of you are. The best way we can honor RBG is to continue to fight for equality on all fronts, something I had been thinking about while writing, but now seems even more salient having lost such a hero and protector of rights.

God’s Grace

God gives us so much grace. In essence, this chapter is a giant “I know you are going to make mistakes, but here are all the way you can make good when you realize you made one.” Notice, in particular, verse four and five:

“or if anyone thoughtlessly takes an oath to do anything, whether good or evil (in any matter one might carelessly swear about) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt— when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, they must confess in what way they have sinned.”

“Guilt” is not accrued when the offending action is taken. Guilt is only accrued when the offending party becomes aware of the offending action. God meets us where we are: asking us to learn first, then act accordingly.

And God knows we have different abilities and capacities. Not everyone is required to bring a lamb as a sin offering, because not everyone can afford it. God gives a sliding scale of atonement. Those who cannot afford a lamb can submit two doves, and those who cannot afford two doves can bring some flour. God again meets us where we are: giving us grace and options before requiring action.

God’s grace is wonderful. But I think, all too often, we rely too much on it. If we are truly living as Christians, it is not enough to admit to our “sin,” and thank God for being so gracious. We need to act, to offer the proverbial sin offering, so to speak. The requirement of this chapter, and truly the model for Christian living, is two-fold: learn, then act. It is not enough to simply learn.

Faithfuls’ Action

Indeed, the opening lines of this chapter focus upon action, calling the faithful to “speak up when they hear a public charge to testify.” Today, we are being called to testify on behalf of our siblings, our country, our very world. As I discussed in my last post, we have become aware of so many unintentional sins. Perhaps you were not aware of just how bad the rate of climate change is. Perhaps you were not aware of structural racism. Perhaps you were not aware of the US (and Canada) violating sovereign land rights of tribes for pipelines and other projects, or of the dire situations in South America that force refugees to our southern border, or of worsening humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, and Afganistan. But now you do know, now we all know, and denial and inaction are now inexcusable.

I know I just gave you a lot of crises – and no one person is going to be able to solve them all, so please don’t feel overwhelmed. Remember, God meets us where we are, and simply asks that we try a little better once we know. Small steps can make a difference. If every American adult donated just $10 more that would be over $2 billion for charities and other causes. If we continue the work-from-home trend started by the pandemic, we could keep literal tons of carbon out of the atmosphere. If even just half of American adults called their representatives once a year that would be one million opinions publicly and officially voiced. If 65% of the voting population turned out (as opposed to the average 55% of the last four presidential elections) we might have very different policies being passed by very different politicians. Again, these are little things, tiny nudges. But they do make a difference.

Focus on Gender Equality in honor of RBG

This week, let’s honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory by remembering the marginalized. RBG was a particular champion of gender equality, so I’m going to focus on that here. I’ll leave you with a list of things that we can all do towards promoting gender equality. Note that none of these require any money, as I want to be sure we all have access to being agents of change:

  • Remember that trans women are women, too. Excluding anyone from discussions (and actions!) about gender equality is counter to the very idea of equality, and definitely not what either RBG or Jesus would do.
  • Men – share more in household chores! I challenge you to do one more thing than you usually do. And to anyone partnered to a man, ask them to do something! Oftentimes they are willing, but they just don’t even know what they don’t know.
  • Think like a mom. The next time you go out to do errands or go to work, I challenge everyone to think about what it would be like to have small children in tow. Is there reserved parking for new and expectant mothers? Are there changing stations in the bathrooms? Are the sidewalks in good repair? This last one makes a huge difference not only to mothers with strollers but also to anyone with mobility challenges. Just another example of how inclusivity works to the benefit of all.
  • Vote for (and hire, and promote) women. Women do not have a proportionate share of power. If we truly want to support the equality of women, we need them in positions of authority where their experience and expertise will help shape policies for future generations. The same goes for just about every minority group.

Fight the good fight, my friends, and let’s be agents of change in God’s name. Now, more than ever, it is important to act upon what we believe in. May God bless and inspire you this week, and I look forward to hearing what you act upon in your lives.

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!

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!

Bonus Post: So Why Be Good?

My last two posts have been about the universal reconciliation I believe all of humanity can look forward to, and how sin is just another word for animal instinct.  I want to head criticism off preemptively, because I can hear the argument now:  “If we’re all saved and sin doesn’t exist, why bother following Christianity? Why bother following any religion, actually, or even worrying about being good?”  In other words, can we be good without the impetus of damnation or salvation?  It is, ironically, a question from which many atheists have to defend themselves.

The Humanist Connection

At the risk of pissing off both Christians and Humanists, I think the answer lies, at least partially, in Humanist beliefs.  Humanists International says “human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives.”  Human beings have the ability to reason, to be empathetic, and have the capacity for a wonderful imagination and problem solving.  Whether you believe (as I do) that these are God-given gifts or simply the product of millennia of evolution is beside the point: we can all agree these abilities exist.  We are a communal species, and as such, individuals benefit when the community benefits. Monkeys know this – they sleep together for protection and scream warnings to eachother.  Lions know this – cubs are co-mothered and co-nursed by all the females within the pride.  I could go on with crows, ants, and really any other communal animal.  So, if animals with no religious beliefs (as far as I know), no promise of heaven or threat of hell, can behave in a way that is beneficial for their society, can’t we as humans do so as well?

Humanists believe so.  The Humanist Society of Western New York puts it this way:

“We owe it to ourselves and others to make it the best life possible for ourselves and all with whom we share this fragile planet. A belief that when people are free to think for themselves, using reason and knowledge as their tools, they are best able to solve this world’s problems. An appreciation of the art, literature, music and crafts that are our heritage from the past and of the creativity that, if nourished, can continuously enrich our lives. Humanism is, in sum, a philosophy of those in love with life.”

Isn’t that a statement we can all agree with?

I also just want to point out the many secular societies that are doing good without any religious impetus: The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, The Nature Conservancy, and you know I’m going to go ahead and list Planned Parenthood, too.

Getting back to Christianity…

This is quickly turning into a defense of Humanism, so let me tie it back into my own beliefs. As a Christian, I believe it is my responsibility to “do good.”  Not because I will be “saved” for doing so, but because I want to show my gratitude to my God, who has given me so many beautiful gifts: this earth and all its wonders; art in the form of music, painting, and dance; the promise of a life hereafter.  I believe that everyone on earth is my sibling in Christ, and as part of my family it is my responsibility to help them, just as one would do for their flesh-and-blood family.  I act – or at least, I try to act – out of love. My underlying motivations might be slightly different than that of an atheist or agnostic, but the end result is the same: the ability to care about and for humanity without needing to be scared into it by the idea of damnation or bribed into it by the idea of salvation.

A follow-up question might be, “so why keep reading the Bible?”  I do believe it was divinely inspired.  That does not mean I think it is infallible, or a perfect recording of history.  The key word is inspired here, people.  And it continues to provide inspiration, today. I view the Bible as a guide – something that can be read over and over to reveal new truths, help us meditate upon ourselves and society, and give us an idea of what is important to God.  Is it the only way to know God? No.  I think prayer is important, too (even though I’m terrible at it), and honestly just going outside and marveling at nature is probably the best way to be humbled and awed before God.

“Human decency” is a phrase for a reason: It’s something we’re all capable of, regardless of religious beliefs (or lack thereof).  Honestly, if you are only good because somebody is making you be good – whether it’s God, a parent, a parole officer, or whoever, then you’ve got some serious soul searching to do.  So why be good? If for no other reason, be good because a rising tide lifts all boats.  Gratitude to a higher power is optional.

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!