Dispossessed Peoples’ Day

Today, in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving.

Though I’ve been celebrating it every year, I’m not this year.

I have finally reached a place in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No. I cannot celebrate the conquest of a land by people who had no right to it, and the destruction of the people who already lived and thrived there.”

The traditional story goes something like this: Pilgrims came over to North America, and were welcomed by friendly Indigenous Peoples, who taught them how to live off of the land and survive the winters. They celebrated by sharing a meal together.

Aww, isn’t that sweet? Too bad it’s 100% bullshit.

Though all the stories surrounding Thanksgiving are debated, it’s more likely that this feast celebrated one of two things: 1. the harvest (which, fine, sure, whatever) or 2. the massacre of over 700 Pequot people (I’m sorry, what?).

But the truth of that story does not change the fact that the colonists did dispossess waves upon waves of Indigenous Peoples, and most of us can locate ourselves on one side or the other–conqueror or conquered. I, personally, as a white person (though my particular heritage is asynchronous with the colonization of North America) bear some of the guilt for the ways in which I’ve benefited from this dispossession.

And I am not grateful for that. I do not celebrate my privilege. I do not celebrate others’ lack thereof.

“Okay, yes, the origins of this holiday are shady, but can’t you use it to be grateful for the good things in your life?”

No. For the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t only love my husband one day out of the year, so I don’t need a pointless holiday to commemorate that. I don’t need a holiday to be grateful–I’m learning to live a life of gratitude. If that’s all this holiday is about now, then I see no reason to celebrate it.

So, today, I’m mourning. I’m angry. I’m disheartened. I am hopeful that one day, things might be different. Maybe I’ll be able to teach my children about the terrible history that is the bedrock of the U.S., yet be able to say, “But it’s different now.” Maybe someday justice will happen and equality will be the norm. But since we’ve been screwing things up for over 500 years, I’m not counting the seconds.

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Hope for my Little Ones.

Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives is voting on the Freedom to Marry bill. As I think about this, and how it affects me and my future, I felt compelled to write this letter to my future children about this historic day and marriage equality in general. Enjoy.

Dear Little Ones,

Today, the MN House of Representatives votes on the Freedom to Marry bill, which would make Minnesota the 12th state to make marriage equality a constitutional reality. I do not know yet what the outcome will be. I hope to God that by the time you read this, all couples can legally be married, regardless of their sex.

You’re probably wondering why I’m writing to you about this. There are a lot of reasons why marriage equality matters. I hope your Dad and I have educated you well on this. I hope we have taught you to see the beauty in every person. I hope we have shown you that love, and not sexual orientation, is what makes a family. I hope we have told you about our heroes in this fight, men and women, queer and straight, who faced discrimination and hatred simply for believing that all people deserve the right to marry.

Most of all, though, I am writing this to you because I want you to know that, no matter who you are or who you love, your Dad and I support you. If you choose to commit your life to someone, it is of no concern to me whether they are a man or a woman, or neither. All I care is that they are worthy. I care that they are honorable and kind, that they support you, that they see just how beautiful you are. I care that they love you as much as we do. If you find somebody like that, it doesn’t matter to me what their sex, race, age, or anything else is. I will support you and love them as my own. I promise.

Love, Momma

The Nature of God, or Why I Don’t Care About Conversions

First of all, sorry for the break. We’ve had an interesting summer. And by interesting, I mean…challenging. Which means this hasn’t been a priority. Anyway.

Tony Jones recently posted a challenge to “progressive theo-bloggers” (I think that includes me) to write one post about God–not politics, or Jesus, or anything else, just God. Incidentally, the husband and I have been discussing the nature of God as we try to figure out how to lovingly, gently contend with his nearly-fundamentalist brother who has made it his mission to tell us we are wrong. About everything.

Super.

I had been trying to think of what to write about next, what was on my mind enough to warrant a post, but not too chaotic and emotionally charged to make sense. I have about ten drafts waiting to be finished. I don’t know if they ever will be. Tony’s challenge, then, came at a perfect time.

My husband was a reconciliation major, which means that his niche is social justice. This passion has spilled over to me as well. His brother recently sent him a facebook message that essentially said social justice is only good if God is being exalted, which, in his terms, means that justice is only good if people are being converted directly by you.*

It was at that point in reading his message that I realized: our disagreements with him are so much deeper than whether a certain issue is right or wrong. Our disagreements are about the nature of God and of faith themselves.

When you look at what he has said, you can see that what he values most is getting people to believe in God. If this does not happen, unbelievers will be sent to hell by this God, without concern for whether they were good or bad people. Thus, if you have the option of feeding a hungry person with food or with the Bible, you should always pick the Bible, because feeding them mere food won’t “get them saved.”

Beyond the plethora of theological flaws with that way of thinking, there is a bigger issue here: isn’t there more to God than that?

I would like to think that God is at least a little more intricate than your average nightclub bouncer.

There is this fantastic quote by which I form my life: “Do good works, and there you will find God.” I don’t have any clue who said it; I thought it was Mother Teresa for a long time, but when I googled it, her name and the quote were in no correlation with each other. If anyone knows, I’d love to pin down who said it. But, yes, the point. I believe, and have found it to be truthful, that God doesn’t always show up in sermons, or in church, or when someone asks me what I believe in. But God always shows up when good works are being done.

God is exalted when a hungry person is fed. God is exalted when a lonely person finds a friend. God is exalted when a homeless person has a place to stay. God is exalted when a poor person has a way to make ends meet.

God is exalted when all people join hands to serve each other, regardless of their religion.

Because God is bigger than a nightclub bouncer with a list of names; you’re in, you’re out. God does not focus on our words, but our hearts. God understands that our religion is more often a product of our culture and our geographical and historical location than it is our choice of beliefs. God understands that we don’t always get the right representation of love. God knows that it is more important for a person to choose to do good over evil than for them to choose the Bible over any other holy book.

Because God has welcomed all of us–every last one–to the table. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, black, white, male, female, queer, straight–doesn’t matter.

I’m sure God rejoices when Christ is shared and accepted. But I think God rejoices even more when love is shared and accepted.

And if God is willing to forgive our sins time and time again, I think God is willing to look past our religion and see who we truly are.

Do we care most about getting people to believe what we believe, making them like us? Or do we care most about giving love to all people, making ourselves like them?

I think the God who became a person, and a poor, homeless, socially unacceptable rebel at that, would want us to do the latter.

Because God is not confined to religion. God is, however, love.

 

 

*He did go on to explain it this way; I’m not putting words in his mouth, er, hands?

Let Justice Roll On Like A River

Today was rough.

I’ll explain why in a second. First, some background information.

I’m taking a class on the Prophets of Israel this semester. I didn’t really want to take it, per se, but I needed the credit to graduate. It’s not that it’s a bad class, it’s that the professor has a reputation of being a very tough grader, and getting a poor grade in this class could keep me from graduating with honors.

The professor himself is a wonderful man. He led the trip I and 25 or so other students went on to Israel/Palestine last year, so I know him in a much more familial sense than many other students do. He’s open and honest, kind, brilliant, hilarious, and a great teacher. Really, I don’t know why I was so apprehensive about this class.

He lived in Jerusalem for five years in the nineties. He witnessed, firsthand, the awful effects of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In his classes, he tries to inform his students of what the conflict is really like, which is very different from what many of us hear from pastors, politicians, and even other professors. While I cannot say for certain, I can infer from context that he aligns himself with Palestine.

We’ve been studying Amos for the past few days in this class. Today, this professor spent the entire class time telling us about the conflict, and charged us at the end of class to interpret Amos in light of this present issue. The stories he told were gut-wrenching. They were both from his own experience and from the experiences of others throughout the past seventy years or so. It took everything I had not to break down right there in class.

Because I feel for these people. As an advocate for social justice, I align myself with Palestine. I stand on the side of the oppressed and the hated, the poor and the homeless, the violated, mistreated, and abused. I’ve been unashamedly pro-Palestine ever since I went there and saw just a little of it for myself. My husband, who has a degree in Reconciliation Studies and thus studied this at length while he was in school, has aided me in my learning about the conflict and has walked with me as I’ve come to see things this way. We plan on moving to Palestine sometime within the next decade or so to do humanitarian work because we’re both convicted in such a way and are not content to sit back and allow this to continue.

My heart breaks for the Palestinians. You see, prior to WWII, they had been the nation of power in the region that Israel now dominates. Jews who were now homeless after the war were relocated to Palestine as part of the Zionist movement. The Palestinians welcomed the soldiers who came to scope things out as guests. The Zionist soldiers returned the favor by destroying their cities, killing many of their people, raping their women and stealing whatever they could from them.

It’s a great track record for the so-called people of God. It’s also not surprising, then, that some Palestinians have chosen to respond with violence. What they have done is so minimal in comparison to what the Israelis have done to them.

This conflict has continued since then. It is still just as awful. Palestinians are not even considered citizens, or even people, in their own land. They often cannot travel into non-occupied Israel, thus limiting their options in terms of jobs, education, healthcare, and nourishment. Their cities are taken over by Israeli soldiers, and with very little effort they can be determined “illegal” and be bulldozed.

Yet, so many evangelicals think that they deserve this. They think that Israel ought to have dominance simply because God promised them that they could live there. They think that, because they assume all Arabs are Muslim, and all Muslims are evil, that they ought not to be treated as humans.

Nevermind the fact that many Palestinians are Christians.

Also, and I’m embarrassed that I even have to say this, nevermind that ISLAM IS A RELIGION THAT HOLDS PEACEMAKING EVEN HIGHER THAN CHRISTIANITY DOES. Islam is not evil. Its followers are not evil. They are people. They are created in God’s image just like anyone else. If you disagree with them, fine. But you’re still called to love them.

I am so, so, so sickened by the Church these days. I cannot see how Christians, who claim to follow Jesus, who made company of the “least of these,” can say that the Palestinians deserve death. I also cannot see how Jews, who are held to the Mosaic Law, can do the same either. Let’s do a little comparison here to demonstrate:

  1. “Love your neighbor as yourself;” “Love your enemies.” (Luke 10:27, cf. Leviticus 19:18; Luke 6:27) Many Christians and Jews express hatred towards the Palestinians.
  2. “When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigners residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) I don’t think this gets any clearer. Rape, stealing, destruction of homes, denying human rights, and murdering would all fall under the banner of “mistreating,” and claiming oneself as a superior race and ethnically cleansing out another “foreigner” does not mesh with treating foreigners “as your native born.” Side note: it’s interesting that the Jews, fresh from their own ethnic cleansing during the Holocaust, would turn around and do the same damn thing to the Palestinians.
  3. “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13-15) The Zionist soldiers killed, raped, and stole from the Palestinians whose villages they destroyed.
  4. “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) In this psalm, Israel is calling on YHWH to do these things. Yet, they refuse to do the same towards the weak, fatherless, poor, oppressed, and needy in their midst.
  5. “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe foreigners reside, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD;” “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23; Leviticus 25:23) It is clear here that “inheritance” does not mean “ownership,” as the land is God’s. It also says that foreigners are to be treated as equals. Israel claims the land is their possession, and doesn’t even treat the Palestinians as humans, let alone equals.

These are only a small handful of the verses that could be used to indict the nation of Israel and evangelical Christians who support it. I encourage you to check this out for more.

I rarely claim that any biblical passage that was directed to a specific group of people in a specific place at a specific time has the same force and meaning as it does for us today, primarily because I’m about as far from fundamentalism as one can possibly get. But, in cases like these, I make an exception for Amos. Read it. It sounds an awful lot like today, doesn’t it? And it seems pretty clear, if we are to read it as a message to us in light of the Israel-Palestine conflict, that we’re supposed to stand on the side of the poor, the needy, the oppressed, otherwise known as PALESTINE.

Consider these things. If you support Israel, can you truly continue to do so when confronted with this? Can you really write off such horrible injustice as the will of God? If yes, I suggest you leave this blog immediately, because you and I do not believe in the same God.

However, if you are of the same mind as me, please do not be complacent. Do not simply align yourself with Palestine and leave it there. Justice requires action. There may be precious little we can do from here, but at the very least, listen to the stories of the Palestinians. Books like Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour and The Palestinian Catastrophe by Michael Palumbo are great places to start. Tell these stories. Pass them along. Show your brothers and sisters in Christ this side of the story. Ask them to consider these things too.

Do not remain silent for any longer.