Wednesday, October 24, 2018

There Are Many Ways To Be Chopped Into Pieces

In the OT book of Judges, Chapter 19, is one of the truly horrible stories of scripture.  True, there are many stories that one could call horrible...but this one particularly rates at the top of the list.

It is the story of a Levite, a man of some prestige, who has taken to himself a concubine.  Now a concubine is a woman who lives with a man, but her status is lower than that of a wife; a mistress is close, but doesn't catch all the flavor of it.  Suffice it to say that the difference between her status and his as very large.

Interestingly though, she seems to have some spine to her despite that difference.  They argue, she gets angry, and she leaves to return to her father's house.  It's also interesting that some translations take the Hebrew literally as say she "played the whore."  The idea that leaving the Levite amounted to being sexually unfaithful is further complicated by the fact that there is no marriage covenant between them.  So because of this, and the further elements in the story, I chose to go with the interpretation that she got anger with him and went home to her father's house (also, if she had a lover, why not go to him?)

In any event, after about 4 months, the Levite decides to go woo her back.  But when he gets to the father's house, he spends all the time with his concubine's daddy.  You can imagine them sitting in the den, drinking beer and eating nachos while they watch the Saturday-Monday night football games.  There is no record of EITHER of them speaking to the concubine about her feelings, or about why she left, or if she wants to go back.

They do eventually leave, however.  The concubine traveling with the Levite.  Through a long narrative they arrive at the home of an old man and the story plays out much like the one of Lot in Sodom.  A mob surrounds the house and wants to rape the Levite.  The old man offers his virgin daughter and the concubine instead, but the crowd turns that down.

Here the story becomes truly horrible.  Up to this point it is the story of a woman who goes home to daddy...but daddy actually prefers her spouse (sort of spouse) and the woman is pretty much an object that goes where she is told.  Sad, bad...but unfortunately, not unique.  But now the Levite shows his true colors.  He grabs his concubine and pushes her out the door to the mob, locking the door behind her.  He sacrifices this woman, the one he wanted to "woo her to come home," to save his own skin.

The mob rapes her all night long.  Does the Levite hear her cries through that terrible night?  Does he listen?  Does he care?

When the morning comes, the mob leaves her to crawl to the doorway of the old man's house.  When the Levite opens the door in the morning, he finds her there grasping the threshold.  He was going to leave as though nothing had happened.  He wasn't going to go looking for her.  She no longer mattered to him.

In one of the coldest scenes in all of scripture, he looks down a this woman he had thrown out to the mob and says, "get up, we're going."  And when he gets no answer, he throws her on his donkey like a sack of wheat.  We do not know if she was dead when she lay on the threshold; but we assume (dear God, we hope) she was dead by the time they get home.  Because the Levite then carves her body into twelve pieces and sends the pieces throughout the territory of Israel with the message, "look what these people did (to me) what are you going to help me do about it?"

Why, you ask, would I want to even tell such a story?  Well, I could say that it's Scripture; so there must be something we're supposed to learn from it.  But that wouldn't be sufficient.  During this month, October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness month, there are some things worth noting.  In an analysis of the 2015 data collected by the FBI it was found that 928 female homicide victims were "wives or intimate acquaintances of their killers."  That works out to almost 3 (2.54) women killed each day by an intimate partner.  Killed.  This doesn't began to touch the cracked ribs, the black eyes, the bruises intentionally put where they do not show.

The story of this concubine (I refuse to call her the Levite's Concubine; that would intimate that I agree that he had some valid ownership over her) shows many of the markers of a pattern of domestic abuse.
1)  They argue and she leaves
2)  He waits and when she doesn't come back, he decides he will go "woo her and speak to her heart"
3)  When he gets there, he finds welcome in the social structure of her family.  The community ethos
      supports him more than her and there is little or nothing said to her.  It's like the flowers he
      brought were forgotten at the door.
4)  When they do leave, it is as though nothing has happened.
5)   When the house is surrounded, the Levite is quick to sacrifice her for his own sake.  Her safety,
       her needs, mean nothing to him.  She is a thing to him, an It.
6)  Once again, when he finds her on the threshold, there is no compassion, no empathy.  "get up,
      we're going."  This is the kind of crazy making behavior that occurs all the time in homes with
      physical and sexual violence where everything the next morning is "pretend normal."
7)  When she dies, the Levite uses her body to proclaim how HE has been wronged.

It's all about the Levite.  All about HIS being left; HIS need to woo her back; HIS safety from the mob; HIS being insulted by the rape and murder of the concubine...a rape and murder he facilitated.

We aren't likely to see body parts being shipped around the country.  But we can find parallels for all the rest of these markers in the domestic violence that happens in this country every day.  While women are the major victims; men, children, and the elderly are physically and emotionally abused as well.  Unless we acknowledge that the stories are out there, that they are not unusual, we will never heal this country's addiction to violence or the infection of our hearts that makes some people expendable and others entitled.

Domestic violence is a Halloween tale for it's victims....every day.  And the intergenerational impact of observing that violence is expressed in depression, PTSD, sexual assault, and further domestic violence in the next generation.

One hopes that on judgement day God will say to the Levite, "how did you let this happen?"  Most certainly, God will look at us and then at the ravages of this violent society and ask us the same question.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hear The Word Of The Lord

America stands
under the judgement of God
We have robbed the widow
We have defrauded the orphan
We have denied justice to the vulnerable
We have slain the innocent
Our hands drip with the blood
of our brothers and sisters.
We have excused the violence
of other nations
for the sake of their oil
We have made friends of tyrants
and coveted their power
Israel wanted a king like other nations
We have envied their despots
Thus says the Lord
If those who claim that they are My people
will turn from their wicked ways
I will hear and heal their land
If not
The day is coming
When they will cry out for the end
but the end will not come
They will have made their choice
and I will not rescue them
from the consequences of their sin
But know that if they turn
It will be a long and painful turning away
from all they have wrongly worshipped
Yet should they choose to do so
to walk in the way of justice
I will take their hand
And walk with them
and teach them the delights of My Love

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Poems Meditating On Job

This will be the third week in my sermon series on God And Human Suffering.  The first sermon was on the issues related to victims of sexual abuse; last Sunday began a discussion of Job as an example of innocent suffering.  This week the examination of Job continues with a sermon entitled The Man Who Sued God.  
Studying the issue of human suffering and faith is a struggle for me.  It demands looking at some very dark places in human experience and very dark places in the human heart.  Out of that work this week has come a set of poems.  They are stand-alones, but they are interconnected as well.  I offer them to you below.  And, by the way, I do not believe you can get to the second poem without walking through the first.

If He Knows

If He knows every sparrow that falls
How come so many
Writhe in agony
Before death comes to claim them?
Why does the child
Who once ran to hug me
When I picked up his half siblings
Stick a needle in her arm
And drift slowly away in the soft dusk
of the evening?

A doctor spends a lifetime
fighting disease
The diplomat seeking just piece
The minister combats hunger
and bigotry
Only to have their grandchildren
ravaged by illness
in a nation ripped apart
by racial hatred.
The little ones
Who carried their hope and heart
Lie side by side in the bloody dust.

It is true that
So many of us, including me
Avoid the reality of how much of the evil
in the world
Can be laid at our doorstep;
Even much disease
is the result of choices we've made.
We leave lead
In Flint's drinking water
and then bemoan
the individual child with cancer
"Where is God?" we cry,
"when an innocent child suffers"
We avoid the questions
Of corporate guilt and natural consequences
our sins of greed and short sightedness.
When a five year old
is raped
By an uncle
In a house full of relatives,
Don't blame God
Blame the grown ups who refused to see
what was right in front of them
and were deaf to the cries in the night

All of this is true
And more
But when we peel away
all the layers
For which we are responsible,
When we take responsibility
for having blown the world apart,
The randomness of who is hit
by the flying pieces
Still robs my sleep with it's terror.
There is still
The question of innocent suffering
and an answer too big
maybe too terrible
to comprehend

Job Won His Case

Job won his lawsuit
Though it did not seem so
At the time
Though God responded
With unanswerable questions
And nothing
Not even a new family
Can make up for the ones lost
Job won
God walked out of the courtroom
And into flesh
Shared the dust and blood
of Palestine
Climbed on a cross
Tasted every bitter God damned tear
Job wept
Screamed beneath the lash
and spit blood throu tortured lips
Hanging there
While the crowd walked by
shaking their heads like Job's friends.
Then kicked open death's
To end the final bondage.
God's final answer to Job's lawsuit
Begins, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me."