Thursday, December 14, 2017

Susanna as a Case Study in Sexual Harassment

For my Protestant friends who do not have a copy of the Apocrypha, writing it off as non-historical legends that the Roman Catholic Church has used to support doctrines Protestants don't accept, here is the text of the story of Susanna. Like much of the Apocrypha, it encourages righteous living when the culture is hostile to faith and righteousness, so the moral intent seems particularly relevant today when those who we might have expected to be most vigilant have fallen prey to the lure of money, sex, and power under the guise of self-righteousness. 

There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. He married the daughter of Hilkiah, named Susanna, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich, and had a fine garden adjoining his house; the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honoured of them all.

That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: ‘Wickedness came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people.’ These men were frequently at Joakim’s house, and all who had a case to be tried came to them there.

When the people left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk. Every day the two elders used to see her, going in and walking about, and they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering their duty to administer justice. Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to seduce her. Day after day they watched eagerly to see her.

One day they said to each other, ‘Let us go home, for it is time for lunch.’ So they both left and parted from each other. But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. Then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, ‘Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe.’ They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding.

When the maids had gone out, the two elders got up and ran to her. They said, ‘Look, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us. We are burning with desire for you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.’

Susanna groaned and said, ‘I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.’

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. When the people in the house heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her. And when the elders told their story, the servants felt very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. In the presence of the people they said, ‘Send for Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.’ So they sent for her. And she came with her parents, her children, and all her relatives.

Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement and beautiful in appearance. As she was veiled, the scoundrels ordered her to be unveiled, so that they might feast their eyes on her beauty. Those who were with her and all who saw her were weeping.

Then the two elders stood up before the people and laid their hands on her head. Through her tears she looked up towards Heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. The elders said, ‘While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who was hiding there, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. Although we saw them embracing, we could not hold the man, because he was stronger than we are, and he opened the doors and got away. We did, however, seize this woman and asked who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify.’

Because they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly believed them and condemned her to death.

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!’

The Lord heard her cry. Just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel, and he shouted with a loud voice, ‘I want no part in shedding this woman’s blood!’
Daniel Rescues Susanna
All the people turned to him and asked, ‘What is this you are saying?’ Taking his stand among them he said, ‘Are you such fools, O Israelites, as to condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to court, for these men have given false evidence against her.’

So all the people hurried back. And the rest of the elders said to him, ‘Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you the standing of an elder.’ Daniel said to them, ‘Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them.’

When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, ‘You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgements, condemning the innocent and acquitting the guilty, though the Lord said, “You shall not put an innocent and righteous person to death.” Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?’ He answered, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ And Daniel said, ‘Very well! This lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two.’

Then, putting him to one side, he ordered them to bring the other. And he said to him, ‘You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has beguiled you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?’ He answered, ‘Under an evergreen oak.’ Daniel said to him, ‘Very well! This lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to split you in two, so as to destroy you both.’

Then the whole assembly raised a great shout and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they took action against the two elders, because out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour. Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was spared that day.

Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did her husband Joakim and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of a shameful deed. And from that day onwards Daniel had a great reputation among the people.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans’ Day 2017

Veterans’ Day we call it now. It was originally Armistice Day marking the end of The Great War at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We call it World War I now. It was to be the war to end all wars, with the hope there would not be a second. But obviously that didn’t happen. Somehow the end of one war sows the seeds of the next war. Something about fighting for peace is inherently self-contradictory. Yet, today we rightly honor those who served at great risk and cost with an abiding and deep hope for peace and justice. Perhaps the realpolitik of our world precludes the possibility of peace with justice, but as one who aspires to follow Jesus Christ as his faithful disciple, I will continue to engage in the pursuit of just peace regardless of the risk and cost to me. And I will continue to pray that the hopes for peace and justice of those who served, many at the cost of their lives, will be fulfilled, even if in small increments.

Friday, November 3, 2017

All economic and political philosophies and systems are human inventions

All economic and political philosophies and systems are human inventions susceptible to abuse, corruption, and injustice, some more than others. I do not consider myself to be liberal, conservative, or moderate and have no loyalty to a political party or group. Following the lead of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, I seek justice, compassion, and prosperity especially for weak, poor, and powerless people and integrity and pursuit of the common good from those in positions of leadership and responsibility.

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Long for this Kind of Christian Discipleship to Awaken

I have my own disagreements with John McCain, which are rather different than Donald Trump’s quarrels with him. However, I would have to say that Trump’s threatening response to McCain’s foreign policy comments suggests he does not understand the line from Kris Kristofferson’s song Me and Bobby McGee. “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.” McCain’s terminal awareness makes him immune to threats to his career or reputation. Trump is powerless to take anything that matters to McCain from him. Thus McCain knows he has “faced tougher adversaries.”

That sort of awareness is why the Roman Empire considered the early (pre-Constantinian) Christians so dangerous. Confident of the resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ, they could not be threatened, intimidated, tortured, coerced, or coopted by human power structures. Throughout history, this is why totalitarian regimes and even seemingly benign power structures (economic and social as well as political) are so hostile to such disciples of Jesus. This is why power structures are comfortable with Christendom and its “Christian nation” heirs. They can manage and manipulate diluted religion.

With the turmoil that characterizes the US and the world in our time, I am hearing and seeing a lot of people express yearnings for the security of the cultural landmarks of Christianity or at least religion. I, however, am longing for the awakening of Christian disciples who are so confident in Jesus, the resurrection to eternal life, and the Kingdom (Reign) of God that the principalities and powers will be unable to coerce or coopt us into this world that is passing away.

No Political Hay to be Made from Sexual Misconduct

No one should be making political hay out of the seemingly endless stream of sexual misconduct scandals. Harvey Weinstein and Tim Murphy are recent examples of this coming from the left and the right. Republicans and Democrats are both vulnerable. Religious identification is no protection either. While not limited to power people, I strongly suspect that power and prominence increase the propensity for such behavior. I also suspect that Donald Trump was at least partly right when he said that when you are a star they let you do it. Or at least those who think they are stars want to believe their victims let them do it. All of this is not new. Donald Trump is hardly the first serial adulterer in the White House. Because of my pastoral career, I have seen several unfortunate experiences of serious sexual misconduct by a number of clergy colleagues: some good friends, some prominent and highly respected. Since my “retirement” I have been writing fiction to work through how many of my pastoral experiences and relationships have shaped me. I am currently working on a novel built around the profound impacts of clergy sexual misconduct. Please, please never use these tragic moral failures as political or ecclesiastical weapons. Mourn and be vigilant. Pray diligently for all in positions of leadership: business, political, religious. 

A Modest Proposal for which I Have Almost No Hope

The Las Vegas mass shooting and the Texas Tech student shooting of the campus police officer have reawakened the gun rights and gun control activists hurling invectives at each other. To me the slogans and clichés seem to be ways of avoiding addressing the issues of violence in our society, gun and otherwise. As tragic and evil as mass shootings are, they account for a very small portion of the gun deaths and injuries in this country. Accidents (including children playing with and finding guns), suicide, domestic violence account for far more gun deaths and injuries than mass shootings. Attitudes as well as services for people with mental health needs is essential.  Yes, then there is intentional crime as well. And yes, the violence of our society is not at all limited to guns, though their effective morbidity makes them an understandable focus.

My proposal is that all presuppositions and preconditions be excluded from public dialog about violence and the various means of violence in our society. What we have now can’t even be called a debate. It is more like spoiled, frightened children screaming insults at each other. Can we agree that the violence that comes in so many forms is not healthy for our society and devote ourselves to working together to find effectively ways to reduce it? Though changes in laws and the legal system may be included, I’m talking about a drastic change in our social consensus that makes all such violence unacceptable and treats all implements of violence with extreme respect and caution. Of course, some people won’t comply. Plenty of drivers, businesses, private citizens already operate outside both laws and social norms, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need laws and community consensus for social cohesion. Those who suggest that we can’t or must have total compliance or results before doing anything only prevent us from doing what we can to be better.

One of the huge barriers to this kind of dialog and hard work is our human propensity to locate problems outside of ourselves and put blame on others. The sorts of “we don’t have a gun problem, we have a heart problem” does exactly that. Those who spread such clichés presume that their hearts are ok, and other people have a problem with their hearts.  Similarly, blaming the NRA is a cop out that results in paralysis. I suggest Jesus’ approach of taking the logs out of our own eyes first would go a long way toward addressing this gigantic, lethal stalemate in our society. (Matthew 7:3-5) As long as we refuse to move our positions off dead center until someone else moves, we will be hopelessly trapped in this death spiral.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Not So Modest Proposal to Memorialize the Victims of Lynching

I just finished reading D. L. Mayfield’s lengthy cover feature article in the September 2017 issue of Christianity Today (pp. 34-42), “In Memory of These – How a Montgomery Lynching Memorial Could Help Christians Repent and a Nation Heal.” She began with her investigation and personal memorializing of the 1902 lynching of Alonzo Tucker in Coors Bay, Oregon, not far from where she lives. She makes some allusion to the current turmoil around Confederate monuments, but she goes back much further and deeper than that to affirm how essential repentance for communal and historic sin is for healing.
She affirms the proposed memorial to the 4,000+ confirmed lynchings of African-Americans from 1877 until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Her own experience with memorializing Alonzo Tucker suggests a further step to personalize and localize this plea for repentance. Only a few people will trek to Montgomery to see it, and those would be sympathetic. I wonder what would be the effect of placing a lynching memorial within sight of every monument and memorial of the Civil War/War Between the States, both Union and Confederate. And besides the listing of names, as Christianity Today did in the graphics of the article indicating the massive scope of lynching, each of these bear the name (when known) of a specific lynching victim. Perhaps much as portrayals of the Apostles are frequently shown with the instruments of their martyrdom, these lynching victims be shown holding a noose or having a noose draped around their necks.
A lot of talk about Confederate monuments has been about not erasing history. The history of lynching and other abuses of former slaves and their descendants has not only been erased, for the most part it has been excluded from how history is told and taught. I would suggest (not that anyone will take my suggestion seriously), that a lynching memorial be placed at every monument to Union “heroes” and “victories” be included as well. There is plenty to repent of on both sides and for the inheritors of both traditions. This would prompt serious reflection of a more complete if uncomfortable look at history.
D. L. Mayfield introduced her article with the story of a lynching in Oregon. I have a friend who as a child witnessed the lynching of his teenage uncle in the 1950s in New Jersey, because someone did not like the way he looked at a white woman. The history of lynching is not a southern problem. It is the gaping but hidden wound of the racial divide that has stained the US for centuries and continues to strain relationships and progress toward justice today. Also, keep in mind that this article appeared in Christianity Today, not something from the liberal left, but from the core of evangelical Christianity in the US.