Thursday, January 16, 2014

Accomodating (Judges 2:1-3, 16-19, 3:5-6)

An angel from Adoni set out from Gilgal to Bochim, and announced to the Israelites, "I brought you out of Egypt and into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I told you, 'I will never break my Covenant with you For your part, you must never make covenants with the people of this country. You must destroy their altars.' You have disobeyed me - but for what reason? So from now on I will not drive the inhabitants out before you. They will become your oppressors and their gods will snare you."
     Then Adoni raised up chieftains (judges, saviors) who delivered them out of the hands of the plunderers. Yet once more they refused to listen to their chieftains and prostituted themselves, worshiping other gods and bowing down before them. How quickly they returned to their pagan ways, abandoning the way of obedience to Adoni's commands that their ancestors had taught them! Every time God set up a chieftain over them, God kept the people safe from their enemies as long as the chieftain lived. In this way God took pity on the people's cries for mercy. But when the chieftain died, the people turned to their pagan practices, practices more corrupt than the behavior of their ancestors. They served foreign gods, prostrated before them, and refused to abandon these evil practices and vile conduct…
     So the Israelites lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. They intermarried with them and embraced their intermarriage with Israelite daughters and sons. And they worshiped the gods of their neighbors.
Judges 2:1-3, 16-19, 3:5-6

To enter this text we must first deal with its blatant xenophobia. Our sensibilities are appalled by the nonchalant assumption that since some people are not like us "they" should be feared. The reason for the fear is obvious - "they" will pollute us and make us less. Queer folk have certainly been on the biting end of this assumption. 

The painting above by queer artist Jayson Ward invades our space as an "other" and alarms us since our frame of reference cannot make sense of the subject. Is this a female? Are those breast? Are those arms and legs? Certainly that is not a head, or is it a different kind of head? Is this a human form at all, or some other form which my point of reference wants to project a human figure on? Whatever it is, it is certainly other. We view it with concern which can become either contempt or curiosity depending upon our deepest fears or our highest bravery.

This passage calls on us to approach it with suspicion. Does the casting out, even death, of the other actually promote wholeness in my community, or does it simply allow me to stay within my comfort zone - within my frame of reference? If I choose to cast out, why must I be rabid in my assertions that my enemy is also God's enemy? These two questions drive us to delve deeper and to move beyond the rather naive assumption that as long as I can prove it from the Bible then I am justified in my hate. In fact here is a clear example that just becasue the scritpures says it, the Bible neither means I should believe it nor act on it.

When we delve down we begin to understand the dynamics that give rise to such a black and white passage. The Israelites are emerging, coming out and exercising self-determination. In the process they are encountering and engaging people who are culturally different. Among the chief concerns is the place of Israelite monotheism amidst the polytheism of her neighbors. Here is a bedrock issue for all people of faith - how do we know our god is the true god among a smorgasbord of options? The answer given in the text is the true God of Israel is the one identified as the God who freed them from slavery in Egypt, walked with them in the wilderness, and now is active in their coming out process - the God of covenant, to use the words of our text. In short the true God is the God who walks with us. 

The concern of this passage and the danger to which it points is one of accommodation. How far could Israel go in being like her neighbors and still retain her identity as "the people of God"? A similar question can be asked of us. How much compromise are we gender and sexual diverse people willing to undertake in order to be accommodated by the larger society? I do not wish to suggest that compromise is wrong, for compromise has a valid place in human relationships. I do want to raise the question - at what point, through the act of compromise, do we quite being us and become only what others project on us? Is my identity shaped from within and sparked by the pulse of the Divine? Or, is my identity shaped only by what others want me to be in order to accommodate some vague notion of comfort? When is compromise a virtue? When is compromise a vice? For me, the coming out process was stymied and delayed as I accommodated for the comfort of others, even while denying the issues swirling within myself. 

Returning to Ward's painting - at what point would his compromising of the subject to fit my frame of reference have made the painting into something else. Hybrid Subject 3 could easily become yet another "Study in Nude" lost among the centuries of such paintings which leave us yawning and are easily forgotten. 

The story of Israel's emergence reminds us that we are different. We need not let our difference be a source of conflict, but we are different. As sexual and gender minorities we have been created with an expression of love which does not have a frame of reference in a hyper-heterosexual context. Our presence is an invasion of this space and we will be tempted to assimilate aspects of a queer-negative god for our more outrageous queer-positive God - the God who walks with us.  The former is the "snare," the "evil practices and vile conduct," the "gods of their neighbors" we are warned about. The latter is light, life, and love. 

The wisdom here is to be aware. Be aware of what is gained and of what is given up when we compromise and accommodate. Not all accommodations are bad, yet neither are all accommodations good. Like Israel we must be vigilant so that the essence of our self-identity is not given away and we become simply what everyone else is. How boring that would be.

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