eScapegoat 10

eScapegoat is a story for those whose life experiences require a tenacious, and sometimes solitary, faith. It’s a hard read but a hopeful one. Look for a new posting daily during Holy Week (apologies for my late start this week).

May eScapegoat nourish your soul this Lenten season. Return to beginning.

eScapegoat

Shadow Lands, cont.

…he is to lay his hands upon the scapegoat, symbolically laying the sins of the people upon it. He then sends the scapegoat away into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the sins of the people with it.[i]

***

I couldn’t live in a world where I could believe Sheila would betray me.

I would not believe she had.

I was going insane trying to disbelieve it.

I imagined her apologizing for what she had done or what she’d failed to do; I thought I could keep my sanity if only she would own her actions. If that happened, these tormenting thoughts could, at last, end. But day after day went by with no word from her. It was as if our friendship happened in a bubble and when that bubble burst, the friendship no longer existed, at least not for her.

I realized I didn’t want to live: even more, that I hadn’t wanted to live most of my life. I begged God to kill me. I wanted to kill myself, but I’d embarrassed my family enough. At night I prayed to die in my sleep; I awoke each morning discouraged to discover breath in my body. I stopped painting, stopped eating, stopped imagining Magic Land. Still I lived, still I endured every unendurable moment. My family no longer even feigned interest in my welfare, exerting no effort make me eat or sleep. And still I lived on.

 

When it became clear God would not let me die, I realized I hated Sheila. I hated myself, too, for being fool enough to believe she valued me. Fool enough to believe myself valuable. Sheila would never apologize; I knew that now. I didn’t matter enough to be stood by. Shadows can take only the form given them by substance. In my family’s world, in Sheila’s world, I had no substance of my own. Days went by and weeks as I existed in the sterility of my family.

Weeks turned into months; I ceased going to church. I imagined everyone sighing in relief at my absence. Especially my family; they had grown smaller, tighter. They’d closed ranks: reformed themselves with me outside the door. Wilda’s place of seniority was secured. My shadow hardly darkened our family’s consciousness anymore.

I made plans to simplify their lives. My plans grew solid at the mailbox; one evening at dinner, when a lull formed in the conversation, I spoke.

Everyone jumped; I rarely spoke these days and it seemed in poor taste to put myself forward. I kept it short: “I am going to East Texas College and majoring in art. I’ve been given a full scholarship. I start next month.”

***

The goat that was to be sent into the wilderness was designated by a black mark on the head, the other one on the neck.[ii]

***

Thanks to my job at the hobby shop, I’d bought myself a car: a used Pinto with more miles on it than my parents’ ancient station wagon, and a stain in the back seat I tried not to think about. I had it loaded: Mother had bought the necessities: towels, sheets, flashlight, crackers and Velveeta cheese for snacking. The three of them stood in an awkward semi-circle at my car’s door. Then Mother lurched forward and gave me a hug, the others followed suit, laying cold hands on my back, doing their familial duty.

I could feel their relief as I closed myself into my car and cranked the engine. Then, astonished, I felt myself relieved as well. I was alone in the truth of myself. In my family’s world, they spoke of their faith as the peace that passes understanding. For me, it’s been more the pain that does.

***

He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head.[iii]

[i] Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Gen. Ed. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Baker Academic Grand Rapids, MI 2005, p. 449.

[ii] Orr, James, Gen. Ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1955,   p. 344.

[iii] Lev. 16:21a NRSV.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy

carols-small

I can’t recall when, in my childhood, I first heard the spiritual. It’s one of those memories so early and formative, it knits itself into your bones. Since then, I’ve heard “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” sung by church choirs and perfectly inflected by opera stars. The spiritual is a prayer offered to both the baby and the grown, murdered, and resurrected Jesus. It speaks to Him of poverty, of cruelty, and of spiritual blindness.

Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger.

That we would relegate a birthing mother to a cattle cave is bad enough.

We didn’t know who you were.

That we didn’t see the abhorrence of our act, unfathomable. Yet that’s what happened. And to what “Jesus Boy’s” creators could relate. Not to be seen. Not to be treated as God’s children.

Didn’t know you’d come to save us all
To take our sins away
Our eyes were blind we did not see
We didn’t know who You were

“Jesus Boy’s” creators knew what it meant to be made invisible, to be treated as “less than.”

The world treat you mean, Lord.

Treat me mean, too…

Felt the pain of cruelty in their bones. Yet…

Just seems like we can’t do right
Look how we treated you
But please, Sir, forgive us Lord
We didn’t know it was you.

They don’t choose to see themselves simply as victims. Owning their part in the need for Jesus’ coming, they ask forgiveness. Asking for anything requires courage, because asking makes us vulnerable. Asking forgiveness takes extraordinary courage, because that kind of asking also requires humility.

You done showed us how you been tryin’

Master, you don’t showed us how,

Even as you were dyin’.

 

Faithful unto death. Can I do that? I don’t know. The song’s creators didn’t, couldn’t know. But, in Jesus, they saw a courage for which they longed. In the Little Jesus Boy, Murdered Man, Resurrected God they found hope.

For me, the song best finds its truth when sung by a single voice. One that’s known some tears.

Check out this rendering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5_w2XpG7DI

From the Margins: Rahab

Soul Thirst

They call me whore. When we pass on the street, heads down, eyes averted lest I contaminate them, they utter the word beneath their breath and hurry by, spewing judgment. They have seen their husbands and fathers and sons look long at me; bitterness must find a scapegoat somewhere. That is my role: scapegoat and whore. So be it.

I ceased long ago to live in their world. My life has been cruel, but life has given me a family—father, mother, brothers and sisters—all who depend on me for bread. I did not ask to be caregiver for so many, but I will do what I can. What I must. We are debt slaves, required to pay our obligations. I have some enterprise, for I am a woman of drive and intellect. I weave wool and I mill flax. But these tasks alone cannot provide for so many. I whore to feed my family. One day I will not be attractive enough or well enough even for that, but by then my parents will be dead and perhaps I can get by on my other work. That is the only hope I afford myself. For what could possibly change a life such as mine?

And then the rumors. I hear them from other prostitutes who hear them from their clients: they whisper of a wild transient tribe that dried up the waters of the Jordan and then slaughtered King Og and King Bashan. A thrill in my gut—is it fear or hope?—tells me the God these people follow has power. Power carries meaning for me, for powerlessness has been my life-long companion.

We are a walled city, I tell myself. Why fear a rag-tag tribe and their traveling God? And yet I do fear, for walls are built by human hands upon an earth built by hands I cannot see. What if those hands grasped our walls and toppled them?

Then two of them came—straight into our town, straight into my house. It looked to my condemners like business as usual. But for once I had the power. The spies visited my house; I could do with them as I willed: turn them over to the king, if I chose. Perhaps be rewarded. But I knew by now not to trust the power brokers of Jericho. These two men, spying out my city, felt more like kin than my own king. And their God seemed worthy of my loyalty. This day I could choose to be the woman I knew, rather than the woman others chose to see.

I hid the men under a flax pile on my roof. When the king’s men came looking, I lied. Told them my clients left before the city gates closed. If the seekers hurried, they might just catch them.

The spies emerged then, covered in flax and reeking of the fear sweat. I pressed them to spare my family when their God took our city. I had no doubt this God could do whatever He chose, for here was power beyond imagining. The spies promised, on condition that I hang a crimson weaving cord from my window and secret my family inside our house. I agreed, and lowered the two by rope over the wall and into the waiting dark. I cut a crimson cord, fastened it to the window and felt, for the first time in my memory, the hope of freedom.

Then came the strange daily marches: seven of their holy men carrying trumpets and four bearing on poles a golden box that flashed fire in the sun. The holy men blew their horns into the silence for, though the entire tribe, thousands and thousands of them, paraded behind their priests, not one made a sound other than the slap, slap, slap of sandals against dirt: nothing but the padding of countless feet, and the eerie sounding of the trumpets day after day, circling our city and then departing. I watched, mesmerized, and a thrill of something between wonder and horror settled in my belly. Six days all. Six days of trumpets and silent parading. People in the streets joked about it, making it small and silly, but I could feel their fear. It hung in the air, cloying and cold, and we could not escape it.

The seventh day began as the others: trumpets sounding in silence, a soundless circuit of the city walls. But when the wanderers completed one circuit of the city, they began again. A second circuit…and a third…and a fourth, fifth, sixth. The tribe began to circle Jericho a seventh time. Watching from my window, I saw their leader give a signal. Shouts erupted from the mass, shouts so loud, so fierce, and so wild, that I cupped my hands over my ears. My heart raced—it was happening—and I propelled my family to the center of our home. “No one leaves,” I commanded. “No matter what.”

The earth writhed beneath us and the walls above us rocked. Then the sounds and smells of falling rock and rising dust. Screams from the injured and the terrified. On and on it went until the only world I could imagine was the small space in my home and the people who occupied it. We could barely see for all the pulverized stone and dust in the air. We breathed it in and coughed it up. But we stayed, though our terror compelled us to run.

I bullied my family into submission. I had cared for them all along, had I not? They must trust me now. We must wait in place as our city collapses around us.

Two familiar faces emerged from the dust-laden air: the spies I had sheltered days ago. They led us out of the city and into the Israelite camp. I stood, watching war fires eat away what was left of Jericho; I watched my home and my business descend in ashes. Even from our distance, the smell of burning reached and engulfed us, stealing into our hair and our clothes. But I also watched the fire consume my debts. I was a free woman: my family safe and free. True, we were outsiders among these people, but had I not been an outsider all my life?

Going Native

Small Justices

We’ve all seen it—a newscaster interviewing a “guest” about his/her corporate business. Turns out the interview is a commercial dressed up as news. The practice has become so prevalent, it’s been given a name: native advertising. Why native advertising? Because news stations, news websites, newspapers, and news magazines need funding. In growing numbers, journalists are drawn toward the siren song of businesses with the bucks to rent them by the hour.

The pitch? Give us your credibility and we’ll give you a fat check. I’ve seen everything from home security systems to windows to grocery stores to plastic-surgery services hawked by reporters.

Professional Ethics: But there’s an obvious problem here; what if these “interviewees” become news? Will not the station that recently promoted their product/service be compromised in its reporting? Even if the newscaster possesses the professional ethics to report an unbiased story, I’ll still question everything that comes out of her mouth.

Lobbying: Second, the news-interview format gives interviewees’ statements credibility and, thus, draws business to their firm. Well, that’s the point, right—for the interviewee, at least. But news strives for objectivity—lobbying has no place in the news room. Those businesses that choose to give native advertising a miss lose out.

Plastics: My last concern proceeds from the prior one. Being interviewed by a newscaster renders the business itself not only credible but necessary. When newspersons hawk a particular grocery story, it’s one thing: we all need to eat. When they’re pushing plastic surgery, that’s another thing entirely. One interviewee—a plastic surgeon who clearly practiced what she preaches—pronounced the need for plastic surgery after every childbirth. “And if the mother nurses, those breasts are bye-bye” she said through Botoxed pouty lips. So now every woman who has birthed and nursed a child and not gotten herself nipped and tucked gets to feel flabby and ugly. The news said so.

What is the answer to native advertising? I wish I knew. Perhaps we can look at Consumer Report’s model, or perhaps you have an idea. This I do know: a strong, impenetrable line needs to be drawn between news reporting and the promotion of private business. Commercializing the news is dangerous. It’s unjust. And it needs to end. Period.

Tinsel & Term Limits

6-nity

I’m a few weeks into this 6-nity business (living into my 6th decade with humor and dignity). And I have to say it’s no big deal. Recently a friend grew apoplectic over the prospect of turning 58. “Ain’t no big thing,” I told her. And meant it. Like a reverse Advent, the anticipation is far worse than the reality.

I wonder what all the fuss is about. Actually, I’m pretty sure I know: we’re a death denying society. That’s why we spread make-up and hair gel on death, then bundle it into expensive packages which allow us to delude ourselves into forgetting that what no longer breathes decomposes.

Older people remind us that our lives have term limits that are not of our choice.

Why else would we reduce older persons to a set of embarrassing, age-related symptoms, treat them as pets, or tuck them quietly away (out of sight…)? Such practices insult persons who have earned the gravitas of years. And it harms those who perpetrate such practices. Such souls are rendered shallow; nothing deep can take root there.

Personally, I refuse delivery of such practices. Instead, I seek to live every day God gives me: to do what I can to make the world a better place. I will work, I will laugh, I will hope, I will love. To celebrate every second my heart beats and my brain fires.

***

The other day I met a septuagenarian. He’d wrapped his walking cane in tinsel and twinkling holiday lights.

“I love your cane,” I said.

“Tis the season,” he smiled.

 You are my role model for the next decade, I decided.

Holiday Justice

Small Justices

“It’s not fair!” wails the child.

“Life’s not fair,” counters the adult—a response that, while accurate, I find wholly unsatisfying. At my core I know life should be fair. Children know it, too. And saying “life’s not fair”—that’s just restating the problem.

This holiday season, and in the coming year, I hope to act for justice. Why the holidays? On reflection, I realized that Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa each respond to an injustice. Celebrants choose meet injustice with creativity, community, and hope: to be what they hope the world will become. How might we live out that kind of hope inside the holiday hectics? Some possibilities include:

  1. Taking Our Turn: We choose not to muscle our way into traffic, whether it be on the road or in the store;
  2. We Respect Ourselves: Enough to treat others with respect, even when we are disrespected. That may mean holding our tongue or it may mean holding someone accountable;
  3. Paying a Fair Price: We support fair trade businesses and give servers generous trips;
  4. Practicing Equality: That server? As important as any CEO, film star, sports hero, or president. Everyone has a story. Everybody matters;
  5. Giving Mercy: Parenting taught me that, while a practice of justice in the home is vital to raising children of character, sometimes mercy is needed. My children needed mercy from me and I from them. Mercy taught us we were more than our failings. I am not condoning a practice of mercy that allows a system of violence to continue unimpeded. I am speaking of acting in love: sometimes that’s being just, other times it’s being merciful.

This holiday season, we can seek to practice the justice we hope for all persons.

How do you respond to injustice? What are your hopes this holiday season for a fair and loving world?

Courting Votes

Small Justices

I am popular—my phone rings off the wall from early morning until bedtime. I’m not a rock star or a film star or a sports star. I’m a voter—and ‘tis the season. Through phone calls, television commercials, and Internet blasts, I’ve been eagerly courted. Come-on lines range from appeals for party loyalty to preys on irrational fears du jour (Ebola, anyone?). Spin renders opponents minor Beelzebubs and the Chosen as icons: gold-leaf halos and all.

I find myself wishing for an early-voter app: I scan my “I Voted” sticker and the app mutes all campaign rhetoric thereafter.

I’m no political expert: I learned more about politics from the West Wing than from my U.S. History class. I’m just an average Josie who pays her taxes and tries to keep her nose clean. But we’re a nation of Average Joes and Josies. Which made me wonder what we Average Joe/Josies hope for in a just politician on campaign. Here’s my list:

  1. A platform built on what the politician hopes to accomplish and why, not on what s/he believes will secure a win;
  2. Wisdom—strength of head and heart: the ability to make excruciating decisions while standing in the shoes of those most impacted;
  3. Enough political savvy to get the job done and enough integrity to know where to draw the line;
  4. Passion for the work that’s not tied to a paycheck;
  5. Greater commitment to the needs of constituents than to the desire for reelection; and
  6. Global awareness—recognition that constituents are best served when we find ways to work together for the common good.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a beginning. What’s on your list? Oh, wait, sorry. The phone’s ringing…

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.

~John Quincy Adams

Our Business

Small JusticesA job test. Passed. A job interview. Seemed to go well.

“We’ll let you know in six weeks or less.”

Six weeks later the hopeful applicant sends a carefully worded “checking on the status of my application” email.

“We should decide no later than the end of next week,” is the response.

End of next week. No word. Then, on Saturday, a form letter: “We have filled all available positions.”

The sad thing about this story is that I don’t need to convince most readers this actually happened to someone. The scenario is far too familiar: someone with a job, attendant paycheck, and the ability to buy groceries treats job seekers like lower forms of life. Why? Does trodding on the downtrodden feed a sick sense of power? Does such behavior stem from a lack of imagination: the inability to stand in another’s shoes? Or is it cowardice: hiding behind protocols to shield oneself from legal ramifications or simply from an uncomfortable interchange?

Whatever the cause, such treatment is unjust. A job seeker  left in limbo for weeks on end deserves a phone call or, at the very least, a personal email. Whatever discomfort the bearer of the bad news feels is nothing compared to what is experienced by the receiver. Especially when the receiver is treated like just one more mundane task to check off a to-do list.

Everyone of us gets rejected. The how of that rejection can make the difference between temporary bewilderment and permanent self destruction. If we must reject, let us do so with humanity.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

Business!’ cried the Ghost, writing its hands again. “Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forebearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” ~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

14 Hundred and 92

Small Justices

We just completed a three-day celebration of “Oppression of a Native People by a Foreign Colonialist” Day. Sales—online and in stores—as well as school and business holidays marked the occasion. What, then, were we celebrating? Columbus certainly possessed courage; I wouldn’t set to sea for parts unknown sans GPS. And he had loyalty: he did what he did for God and country.

But Columbus also accepted social and religious mores that made him act unjustly. In elementary school I learned: “In 14 hundred and 92 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The rhyme could continue, “Claimed another’s land and charged, ‘Believe as I do.’” A product of his time, Columbus basically told residents of “his” discovered country to convert or live as slaves.

What’s my point in rehashing all this business? It’s not as if we can return to 14 hundred and 92 and give Columbus a talking to (bad rhyme intended). We can, however, learn from Columbus—from his courage and his loyalty as well as from his major missteps.

In the aftermath of Columbus Day, we can choose to think for ourselves: to question policies that undermine justice for all, and to recognize “spin” in everything from political debate to television commercials. Also, we can recognize that history written solely by vanquishers is not history, but propaganda. History’s story requires numerous points of view, including that of the vanquished. And we can seek to act justly. Each day provides myriad opportunities, from choosing not to muscle our way into traffic or the check-out line to learning a service worker’s name and expressing our gratitude.

The voyage of 1492 forever changed history—with mixed results. Where do we go from here? 2014 is our year to set sail, seeking justice for all. And that’s never a small journey.

There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.~Mahatma Gandhi

On Yer Left!

Small Justices

“On yer left!” The words, shouted over handlebars or above running shoes sound less like ‘Excuse me, coming through’ and more like ‘Move your bloomin’ arse!’” When my walking feet don’t scurry to the margins fast enough, I’ve received the follow up: “I said, on yer left!”

On my walks I keep to the right, leaving the left open for those moving faster. And yet twice I’ve been knocked down. It seems I cannot make myself small enough to escape the ire of some. What is behind this behavior? I’ve had occasion to puzzle on the question while wiping gravel off my hindquarters.

“On yer left!” stems from a widely-accepted yet largely unassessed formula:

Bigger > Smaller

Faster > Slower

It’s not surprising: we live in a world that equates “getting ahead” with human worth and where bigger is unquestionably better.

Yet Austin, Texas’ “Share the Road” campaign seeks to motivate motorists (bigger and faster) to respect cyclists (smaller and slower) on our roadways. Cyclists deserve equal consideration with motorists because everybody, large, small, slow, or fast matters equally.

Justice extends that measure of respect to all walks, runs, and cycles of life. After all, is the pursuit of perfect health, perfect body, or shortened run time worth treating another human like a road cone?

I’ve been known to respond to “On yer left!” with “On your right!” I’m usually ignored—it’s easy to overlook what is smaller and slower—but I’ve taken a stand for my equal worth.

Here’s my “Share the Trail” formula:

Respectful Cyclists + Respectful Runners + Respectful Walkers + Respectful (all other conveyance here) = Healthy Community

See you on the trail!

There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest. ~Elie Wiesel