Healing hurts in the face of fear

Susan, a friend and a fellow missionary kid, has written of a time of terror, a moment of fear, when she was four or five years old. She starts her story like this:

The early 1960s in Indonesia were years of political upheaval. The Communist party was strong and growing in power. There were protest marches in our city against Malaysia and against the British. I remember the air raid drills in Surabaya when I was 4 or 5 years old. The siren would blow and every light had to be turned off.  We sat in the dark until the siren blew again. If it happened during dinner time, Mom put a sock over a flashlight and fed my baby brother by its faint glow.

One night while we were sleeping, someone painted anti-British signs all over the front wall of our house, right outside the window of my bedroom. My dad asked Supii, who worked at our home, to clean the wall. I didn’t know at the time what all of those signs meant but I watched as they slowly disappeared behind the layers of whitewash.

I have a similar story to start out telling.

The late 1960s in Vietnam were years of political upheaval. The Communist party was strong and growing in power. There were protest marches in America against the Pentagon and against the President. I remember the ARVN field drills in Thủ Đức when I was 4 or 5 years old. The smell of tear gas would overwhelm the pungency of red earth. We watched from the ditch along the dirt road, the smoothest surface for us neighborhood kids to chơi bi (“play marbles”). If it was closer to dinner time, Mom would call us into the yard of the house protected by fencing of barbed wire.

One night while we were sleeping, machine gun fire and bursts of rockets erupted next to our house, right outside the window of my bedroom. My dad had carried me and my two siblings into the bathroom where we hid under a mattress with my mom. I didn’t know at the time what all of the racket meant on this Tết Nguyên Đán (Lunar New Year 1968).

Susan goes on with what happens next. When I read these two paragraphs a couple of days ago, I was deeply moved.

I couldn’t sleep one night. I imagined someone was standing outside my window. When I called out to my dad and told him I was afraid, he took me outside onto our front porch.

It was dark and quiet. No street lamps. We looked up.  Dad pointed out God’s creation—the moon, the stars. They were bright in the night sky. He reminded me of God’s presence with us. There was no need to be afraid. I felt peaceful, no longer fearful. I went back to bed and fell sound asleep.

I was taken back by Susan’s story to a moment when my dad was battling the cancer that came into his lungs when he and my mom were back in Vietnam. It was their first trip there after the war. They had returned with dear friends, Vietnamese orphans who had escaped Vietnam and had grown up in America, and with the orphanage director and his wife, who had led their escape. Dad’s fight against the disease started with a cough that wouldn’t go away. They were in a bus on a pungent dirt road. Or he was out talking with folks, laughing with them, recalling Vietnamese phrases long since pushed away by bits of Mandarin and Cantonese, by Karo Batak, by Bahasa Indonesia. He found his Vietnamese voice again while praying in the floor, with a new friend, diagnosed with HIV-AIDS. Dad was coughing. Praying and coughing. It was later diagnosed as a late stage disease, spread into the spine and as multiple tumors in the brain. At their home in the USA, Dad agreed to go outside for a walk. Under the big Texas sky he reminded me of God’s presence with us. There was no need to be afraid, he said.

But the story rewinds further back to just after Tet 1968.

I couldn’t sleep one night. My dad, who stayed in our house in Vietnam, had come for a two week visit with our family in our high rise apartment in Thailand.

I had been caught smashing the tile roofs of the houses below the balcony of our apartment. I had enlisted the help of another missionary kid to gather big rocks into the elevator and onto the landing, for this very purpose. Dad had punished me as a good father should, and on top of that I was banished from the swimming pool for two weeks. Worse, he had made me go with him to apologize to the families whose homes had been damaged. That night I could not get the unhappiness registered on their faces out of my head. If I was truly sad for them, I recall being afraid that they might somehow retaliate.

Now I’m telling my stories backwards, in reverse. My family has laughed many times together about my little missionary kid mischief and my responses to Dad’s punishment. What I’m recently impressed with, nonetheless, is how deep the impact of trauma on us humans at any age and how kind God is to bring us to places of healing, usually in the face of fear.

2014 blog posts

If you’re looking for them, then go to BLT, where I’m blogging with a few friends.

On Reading the Greek Bible, as a glutton

My absolutely favorite blogpost written by Rachel Held Evans is the one she entitles, Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.

Unfortunately, she wrote this one, against bullying, against “calling other people” names and calling them out, as she herself uses her blog and the CNN blog to call out those she regards as bullies, namely men named Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, and most recently Dave Ramsey. Fortunately, she confesses “our” tendency, in bold font, saying,

In short, we like to gang up.

And fortunately, she goes on, confessing more, in bold font, saying,

After all, when God became flesh and lived among us, the religious accused him of hanging out with “sinners” (even gluttons!) never realizing that this was the whole point, that there were only “sinners” to hang out with.

Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize the biblical, literal, problems with “gluttony.” To make her point, she quotes

passages like Philippians 3:19 (“their god is their belly”), Psalm 78: 18 (“they tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved”), Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”), Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”), or better yet, Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

Unfortunately, these are not always so easily literally to be taken as focused like a precise laser beam on “gluttony.” I mean, look at this little bit by one writer on the problems of connecting some of the words in some of these texts, with gluttony, and I quote (from):

Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament

Gluttonous

GLUTTONOUS. —In Matthew 11:19 = Luke 7:34 we are informed that our Lord was reproached as a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber. The Greek is alike in both passages— ἄνθρωπος φάγος καὶ οἰνοπότης . The English versions are probably right in their rendering of φάγος and οἱνοπότης as implying intemperate excess. But this hardly lies in the words themselves. φάγος (Liddell and Scott, s.v. ) is found only in these passages and in later ecclesiastical writers. οἰνοπότης does by usage (not by etymology) imply excess (Anacreon, 98; Call. Ep. 37; Polyb. xx. 8. 2). In Proverbs 23:20 it answers to סבא יַיִן ‘one who is drunken with wine’ (cf. Deuteronomy 21:20 , Ezekiel 23:42 , Hosea 4:18 for use of the Heb. root); and it is parallel with μέθυσος in Proverbs 23:21 . In Proverbs 31:4 (24:72 Swete) the verb οἱνοποτέω occurs in the bad sense. But it is possible that the real force of the insult to our Lord is shown by Deuteronomy 21:20 . The rebellious son is to be brought by his parents to the elders, to whom the parents are to say, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice, he is a riotous liver and a drunkard.’ He is then to be executed by stoning. It is true that the LXX Septuagint here συμβολοκοπῶν οἰνοφλυγεῖ has no resemblance to the phrase in the Gospels, but Proverbs 23:20 has μηδὲ ἐκτείνου συμβολαῖς as one half of the doublet, ‘among gluttonous eaters of flesh’ ( בִּוֹלְלֵי בָשָׂר ); and in Proverbs 23:21 Aq . [Note: Aquila.] , Sym., Theod. [Note: Theodotion.] agree in using the Deuteronomic word συμβολοκόπος for ולל . Delitzsch in his Heb. NT uses the words found in Deuteronomy 21:20 .

We need not wonder at the non-agreement with the LXX Septuagint. For the discourse has several indications of having been spoken in Aramaic, such as the paronomasia probably to be found in the cry of the children (Matthew 11:17 , Luke 7:32 ‘danced’ and ‘wept’; cf. Farrar, Life of Christ , i. 92; and the Peshitta), and the variation ἔργωντἐκνων ( Matthew 11:19 , Luke 7:35 ) which is best explained by supposing some error in reading an Aramaic document.

George Farmer.


Copyright Statement
These files are in the public domain.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for ‘Gluttonous’. Hastings’ Dictionary of the New Testament. http://www.studylight.org/dic/hdn/view.cgi?n=1075. 1906-1918.

Don’t we gangs of sinners and of gluttons need also really to include all of the Greek here? I’m playing a bit. I’m playing to make a bit of a point. I’m trying to say that we all tend to equate different things and the same things.

Even if we include LXX Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus 23:6, 31:20, 37:30-31) and LXX Maccabees (3 Maccabees 6:36, 4 Maccabees 1:3, 1:27, 2:7) and NT Titus 1:12 (quoting the so called “Epimenides Paradox”), then we are reading literal things as metaphorical. Literal is metaphorical. That last sentence, you get, as a joke, a literal “ha ha” that’s a funny saying “joke.”

Glutton in English is the glue for lots of biblical Greek notions of gluttony. These Greek notions translate Hebrew ones, and in the NT cases perhaps Aramaic notions, of gluttony. We are gluing these notions together as the same, not different.

Then Rachel Held Evans takes us a step further to say that nobody much condemns gluttony. Not like they do homosexuality. And yet, she says, they’re not “literally” to the “biblical literalist” much different. Same with bullying. All sins. All things that all sinners do. Jesus tended to hang out with them, with all, since all equaled sinners, were sinners all the same. And Jesus was called a glutton, if we literally get the Greek.

My point is that Rachel Held Evans’s point is that we must muddy these waters. What’s gluttonous? Who’s the biggest sinner? How are we to throw the first stone? Why not be more like Jesus this way? When will we stop the bullying?

Christian privilege

My friend in real life and blogger friend, Rod aka hOOdie_R, has been writing a lot more about white privilege. He’s spoken out regularly and recently even this week “about the history of white supremacy as a worldwide system.” The activism, the confrontation of and dismantling of privilege that is systemic can be tricky, he notes.

“In spite of our activism, we benefit from global economic structures of oppression,” he quotes womanist and relational theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher as saying. And there are layers of benefits from the system and structures, because one finds oneself participating in it and in them. Privilege is relative. Whiteness benefits those who claim it, and those who can ride its coat tails. And so hOOdie_R finds himself, with his own male privilege that he confesses, quoting this woman at length. She finds herself saying with profound humility in her essay, “A Womanist Journey,” these things:

Sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and ecological destruction are interrelated systems of oppression in womanist understanding…. The masses of black women in the United States work in the lowest paying jobs and struggle to feed their children. They have not benefited from higher education with its economic opportunities. Middle-class womanists in academia, like myself, experience less economic oppression than many poor black women in the United States and abroad. [my emphasis]

I do hope you’ve stayed with me so far. Maybe my title has piqued your interest as I talk at first about hOOdie_R’s writings about white privilege.

I’m writing this post because I’m up at night. I’m up anyways and reading Rachel Held Evans’s latest blog-guest post by Marlena Graves, who self identifies in public as “a Spanish-speaking Hispanic woman.”

Ms. Graves is up at night, kept up. And it’s another self-identity that keeps her up. This is tricky, I must write. Like white privilege, it’s Christian privilege.

Now, let me quickly self identify. You, dear reader, must know where I’m coming from. And do know where you’re reading from.

I’m a cis hetero sexual white male able-bodied homosapien. I find myself most waking moments of most days a theist with trinitarian leanings because I appreciate a kind kind of god if i have to have one, since I have to, and a transcendent one may just be the immanent one who is the kindest sort of homosapien. I could have just used the loaded term “incarnation.” but i like Greek based English more than latin based english, even though I hate the word Christian. (I do appreciate the Bible very much, and yet I confess that others have influenced that very very much, which my blogger friend Suzanne has called “very feminist.”)

Identities fascinate me, especially when they’re self identities. So what are yours? I hate them when they’re systemically imposed. Have any of those?

Well, let’s get to Christian privilege. I think it’s what Ms. Graves is struggling with. Before we get right into what she says keeps her up at night, let me just remind that Ms. Graves is one who finds white male Christian pastors like Mark Driscoll useful individuals to consult as she gives her own Christianity Today advice to Christian women about female masturbation. I am not just trying to shock you, dear reader, with sex. I know it’s a sensationalist sort of thing to do to bring attention to that. And yet do see here how layered and woven together these systems of ideas might just be. Sex is powerful. Whiteness is powerful. Christianity is powerful.

And Ms. Graves struggles as she explains to Christian readers of Rachel Held Evans’s blog why she fasted for families:

There are nights when I lie awake wondering about what sort of Christian I really am.

I mean, there’s the Christian I think I am and then the kind I actually am. When push comes to shove, would I have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy and the subsequent ethnic cleansing that occurred as we made our way from sea to shining sea? Would I have been an abolitionist, actively and publicly standing against slavery and then voicing strong opposition to the eminently wicked Jim Crow laws that ensued after the Civil War? Am I the type who would’ve hidden the Jews during the Holocaust? These nights I wonder if I would’ve labored for civil rights, standing in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. and my other brothers and sisters. Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?

Notice that Ms. Graves is self identifying as Christian. She’s the sort of Christian blogger who is now an apologist for activism. This allows her to wear her other self identity “hispanic woman,” which is not the one she usually has to wear around Christians. At her own blog she’s “a lover of beauty” and “a justice seeker” and an answer seeker and married to a man and mother to their children and a reader (with 14 favorite authors who are all Christians, save perhaps poet Mary Oliver).

Would she have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy as a Christian? Notice what’s implicit in this question: Christian privilege. There’s no recognition here that somebody like Galagi’na Watie, a Cherokee also named Elias Boudinot, might have been also Christian as he initially vehemently spoke against the removal. But what’s being Christian have to do with this sort of activism. Ms. Graves is not identifying with Mr. Watie aka Mr. Boudinot in any way.

Would she have been an abolitionist and then an opponent of the Jim Crow laws? Clearly she’s not an enslaved person because of her race. Obviously she would not have lost anything being a white hispanic due to the American racist law. Does Christian privilege allow her to be an activist then? The presumption is that Christians have the choice here about whether to act or not. The presumption is that most Christians were not blacks enslaved, or if they were African Americans who were also Christians in the minority, then they had a choice to be happy with the law and a choice not to sing the blues (as the Duck Dynasty patriarch so infamously has insinuated by his “coarse” explanations of his Christian privilege, to which he’s entitled, as a white man in America).

Would she have hidden the Jews? Like Corrie Ten Boom? Like all those who kept the Franks safe as long as they could in the Achterhuis? This is a question for non-Jewish Christians? Like it was for say Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Christian privilege allows this? This sort of opt in or out of social justice? This sort of need to explain one’s own activism, to other Christians, on Christian blogs? As if it’s more about one’s Christian identity than it is about racist horrors against individuals, millions upon millions?

She wonders at night in this nation where there’s a holiday in the first month of every new year to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership and his activism. Wasn’t he a Christian? Yes, and she acknowledges him so as her brother with “my other brothers and sisters.” King was constantly calling out the white Christians, the white Christian pastors and leaders, who failed to work for the civil rights of all. And yet there is the Christian privilege that asks, that possesses the very privilege to ask, “Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?”

I’m encouraged by the conversations, by my friends, by Rod aka hOOdie_R to examine my own self. To examine the systems that I identify with or am caught in even caught up in. My privilege requires, to use a Christian phrase, my repentance.

he didn’t keep her a virgin

he kept her
a virgin

and that’s
the gospel
truth
aCCording to
the men
who translated
the NASB

an-
other
one e. e.
cuMMings
a poet a
man
did-
n’t keep an
no-
t-
her

here are two
poems
that
show
that (with my apologies

for the formatting problems)

:

——
she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff i was
careful of her and(having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch(and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell)next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg. ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning)just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

(it

was the first ride and believe i we was
happy to see how nice she acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens i slammed on
the

internalexpanding
&
externalcontracting
brakes Bothatonce and

brought allofher tremB
-ling
to a:dead.

stand-
;Still)

 ------

a pretty a day
(and every fades)
is here and away
(but born are maids
to flower an hour
in all,all)

o yes to flower
until so blithe
a doer a wooer
some limber and lithe
some very fine mower
a tall;tall

some jerry so very
(and nellie and fan)
some handsomest harry
(and sally and nan
they tremble and cower
so pale:pale)

for betty was born
to never say nay
but lucy could learn
and lily could pray
and fewer were shyer
than doll. doll

On being ‘divisive’, On being Christian

“divisive” and “harmful to Christian unity.” ….

This is a common response to those of us who speak from the margins of evangelical Christianity about issues around gender, race, and sexuality, and it’s an effective one because it appeals to something most of us value deeply: Christian unity.

Rachel Held Evans wrote the above after tweeting the following:

Rachel Held Evans is what the church looks like. She speaks up and speaks out as a Christian, as a sister among her brothers and sisters.

She hints, only hints at, the sexism. She calls out the privilege of males without calling them out as privileged males. She compares their blatant or subtle sexism with the blatant or subtle racism of white male pastors opposing the efforts of American black people in the 1960s to gain equal civil rights. Her comparison is not shrill but is soft and understated. Her comparison puts her tweet on par with Rosa Park’s taking a front seat on the bus and the friction it intended:

Obviously, there are issues of privilege at play here. Because the reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. And if friction is equated with divisiveness, then the powerful can appeal to Christ’s call for unity as a way of silencing critics. This was an effective strategy for white clergy who opposed Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, those on the margins are typically working with less power, smaller platforms, thinner finances, and fewer numbers and in the face of subtle but pervasive stereotypes, prejudices, and disadvantages that make it nearly impossible to advocate for change without causing friction.

For example, it always makes me laugh when I’m told that women shouldn’t use social media to advocate for gender equality in the church, but should instead do so quietly within their own congregations. These people seem to have forgotten that social media is often the ONLY platform women have for speaking to the church! That’s kinda what we’re trying to change! And when it comes to discussing gender issues in particular, things get extra challenging because where outspoken men are often described as “passionate,” “convicted,” and “strong,” outspoken women are often perceived as “shrill,” “emotional,” “whiney,” and “bitchy.”  So women speaking about gender issues in the church have a lot working against them when public questions or critiques are automatically dismissed as divisive and whiney.

Just to be clear, Rachel Held Evans is a woman, is a Christian, and is not black.

To be as clear, Rosa Parks was a woman and Christian, but racial equality and racial unity within the churches in America are not issues of the past. And African American men and women, in the church, found more allies in the Jewish community in the 1960s than they did in the white church.

Fortunately, Rachel Held Evans not only blogs and tweets about being a Christian for Christian unity, where the sisters are marginalized by the brothers. She also gets these siblings in the would-be-unified church of Jesus Christ listening to and asking questions of “others.”

For example, she herself asked questions of a “(liberal) [non-Christian, Jewish] Rabbi”; and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat responds:

From RHE: Are there any common assumptions that Christians tend to make about Jews that bug you?

I think the assumptions which bug me tend to be about Judaism writ large, not about Jews as individuals. For instance: the assumption that the Christian understanding of covenant has superceded and obviated the Jewish one, or that Judaism isn’t a legitimate path to God in its own right. That Jesus rendered Judaism moot or obsolete. That Judaism is a tradition of dry, unforgiving legalism while Christianity is a religion of love. That last one probably frustrates me the most, not only because it’s been used to justify some real unpleasantness toward Jews over the last two thousand years, but also because it’s so antithetical to my experience of Judaism.

At the end of the responses, Rachel Held Evans invites her blog readers to continue the dialogue, the listening, beyond their would-be-unified Christianity:

 ***

So great, right?

Be sure to thank [Rabbi] Rachel [Barenblat] on Twitter. And you definitely want to check out her blog. (Her latest post is about Dinah and rape culture!)

The very interesting thing to note here is that this “post … about Dinah and rape culture” is not very Christian at all. It is as Jewish as Jesus.

In her post, Rabbi Barenblat herself speaks up and points out this fact of “Biblical rape“:

In Torah, Dinah is silent (or silenced.) And Dinah is raped. I believe that these two acts of violence against women are connected.

There is the need, the call for, voices and actions of women and men outside the boundaries and borders of the church as well as inside it.

Rachel Held Evans at one point quotes Paul and paraphrases:

we’re called to love each other as brothers and sisters, as people united in one baptism, one communion, one adoption.

There was this point in which Paul exclaimed there’s no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no “boy and girl.”

Couldn’t that also mean there’s no non-Christian and Christian? There’s unity beyond the Church? There’s no Christian privilege? No baptismal privilege? No communional privilege? No adoptional privilege?

No black nor white. No male privilege, no female privilege. No silencing. Period.

cock a snook

At BLT, another place where I blog, one of my co-bloggers (Suzanne McCarthy)

quotes one of the Hebrew Bible scholars (Tremper Longman III)

excerpting one of the co-authors of a particular book (André LaCocque)

writing this:

It is in my opinion the greatest hermeneutical challenge facing a Bible scholar, especially if, as I contend here, the author of the Song was a female poet who intended to “cock a snook at all Puritans,” as says Francis Landy (Paradoxes, p. 17).

After googling a bit, I started snickering a bit, after finding the following.

It is from a novelist, editor, journalist (Justine Picardie)

writing her discovery of a phrase (cock a snook)

cock.a.snook.1

cock.a.snook.2.to.9

cock.a.snook.10