Angora Goat
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I think we’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing injustices when they occur between individuals.  Some injustices are built into the fabric of the way we operate, though.  And I think we have this tendency to ignore what the bible has to say about these.   We’ve become a culture so obsessed by individualism we want to deny the fact that an entire society can sin.

The current political climate is feeding into this.

And I was contemplating a story from the bible, I got this insight into what God thinks of our injustices built into the system.

Judah is one of the people who the 12 tribes of Israel were named after.  He seems to have been the “brains” of the operation in the whole selling Joseph into slavery affair.  Later, he has sons.  One marries a women named Tamar.  Then the son died.

A systemic injustice within their society was that a widow would not have many options, freedom, or possibilities.  It had become traditional for the husbands family to care for the widow, often by remarrying her to younger siblings.  Judah promises to do just this.  He tells Tamar that he will have her marry his younger son, once the son is old enough.  But he doesn’t actually follow through on this plan.

Time passes.  Tamar masquerades as a temple prostitute and sleeps with her ex father in law.  The fact that Judah doesn’t recognize her suggests one of several things.  None of them are pretty.

It could suggest that so much time has passed since Judah made the promise that he forgot what she looked like.  It could mean that having to fend for herself took such a toll on her that she didn’t look anything like she used to.  It could mean that Judah didn’t give temple prostitutes a second glance, didn’t think of them as real human beings worthy of looking closely.

Or maybe he was just a dummy.

Whatever the reason, Judah didn’t recognize her.  And she talks Judah into leaving the symbols of his office, power, and prestige with her as an I.O.U.  The agreed payment was a goat, and Judah didn’t seem to have a goat in his wallet.  (Seems to me that a goat in the room while the transaction was done might have been a little creepy, anyway.)

Tamar reappears, months later.  Pregnant, and baring Judah’s sceptre.  It’s only then that all the pieces fall into places and Judah realizes what he’s done.

The thing about systemic injustice is that we can rationalize that we don’t have a meaningful part in it.  Judah’s failure to honor his word with Tamar, to do the honorable thing and protect his daughter-in-law, this might have felt like a small thing.

But this failure could easily have lead her to no alternatives except becoming a temple prostitute.  If Tamar had never found Judah, and he found out about what Tamar had become, he might rationalize, “Well, it’s not really my fault.  It’s not like I’m one of her customers.”

The bible does not tell us if Judah bought the services of any other temple prostitutes.  But he does seem quite non-challant about the whole thing.  I’d suggest it’s likely that temple prostitutes were a part of his life.

It’s easy for us to avoid connecting the dots, sometimes.  We can think, “Well, I’m not responsible for the fact that those women are prostitutes, because I’m just their customer.  I didn’t force them into the situation that lead them to become prostitutes in the first place.  In fact, I’m helping them.  If I didn’t hire them they’d starve.”

And then we look at the situations we did create.  We look at the Tamars in our own lives.  And we say, “O.K.  so I made some decisions that lead her down that path.  But I’m not supporting her decisions on a day-to-day basis.”

Further when we’re removed from the people who suffer these injustices, we can dehumanize the victims, we can rationalize that things aren’t that bad, that maybe they deserve it.

Judah’s circumstances confronted him with the brute fact that he was both the initiator of this injustice and the enabler of it on a day-to-day basis.  It brought it close to home, and forced him to recognize that he’d once known and cared for the victim.

   We can always blame the other perpetrator of injustice.  But the truth is that both are to blame.  We can always try to dehumanize the victim.  But the truth is that they are a child of God.

 The hard part of all this, I think, comes in wrestling with it in our own lives.  Owning that having either role in systemic injustice is wrong is tough and uncomfortable.  But I think it’s what we are called to do.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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