Saturday, January 11, 2014

Lords of the Straight (Judges 1:4-7)

When the troops of Judah attacked, Adoni delivered into their hands the Canaanites and the Perizzites. They routed 10,000 warriors at Bezek. On the field of battle they engaged Adoni-bezek in battle, and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites. Adoni-bezek fled but was quickly captured. The victors cut off his big toes and thumbs. "Seventy rulers with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick my table scraps," said Adoni-bezek. "Now God has done to me what I have done to others." The victors brought him back to Jerusalem, where he eventually died.
Judges 1:4-7

The book of Judges is not a pretty book. It is about the emergence of a people in the midst of cultures that are hostile to them. The coming out process and it's attending resistance can lead to some rather ugly and frightful events. Such events are encountered throughout the book of Judges. With this opening narrative we are immersed in one of these struggles. It is easy to pass over this initial chapter of Judges as it amounts to only a handful of battle notices. It is interesting to note that the "conquest of the land" as outlined in this chapter - hill people moving into the fertile plains - mirrors more closely the archaeological evidence of Israel's emergence than does the better known conquest story associated with Joshua as an invasion from outside the region.

Of interest to us in this little battle notice is the treatment of Adoni-beke (lord of Bezek). The fact that a memory of him has been preserved and his attributed confession of "70" kings serving him indicate Adoni-bezek was a fierce warrior and a major obstacle to Israel's self-determination. We can imagine a fiercely pitched battle and a stellar sense of triumph when the fleeing Adoni-bezek was captured. We can even imagine a sense of poetic justice when his thumbs and big toes were cut off, a mirroring of how Adoni-bezek treated his captives. 

In any other book of the Bible this would probably be little cause for attention. Yet we are not in any other book. We are in Judges, a book dedicated to showing how the emerging process can get foiled and mired and even fumbled. Israel's fighting forces (albeit a totally volunteer and seasonal force) isn't just another army. In the narrative of the scriptures these forces represent God's vision of an established self-identity called "Israel" and Israel is a "holy people," that is set-aside, different-from, not-as-the-others. 

In this first encounter in Judges between Israel and those opposed to her, the fighting forces turn out to be just like Adoni-bezek. This theme of "being like everyone else" occurs with rather frightening consequences at the end of Judges. Here the theme is just a battle notice, a little poetic justice given with a confession of karmic reality. We feel good and easily move on to enjoy the more detailed personal stories of the book.

We who are in the process of our own self-emergence, about the task of establishing our own self-identity, who are set-aside, different-from, and not-as-the-others due to our gender or sexual diversity need to pay attention here. We have a holy self-awareness given by God, the Sacred, the Universe (depending on your personal understanding) that there are other ways to lean into life and other ways of understanding. As the Sternberg Press book cover indicates, we encounter, interpret, and speak from a different perspective. 

When, as emergent Israel, we engage people who oppose us then our engagement should come from another perspective, from another point of view so new possibilities of understanding might be opened up. Unfortunately, also like emergent Israel, we may seek to treat others as they have treated us. Our sense of vulnerability and the struggles from our past raise up and poetic justice says, "Yes, do it! Treat them just like they treated you."

Yet, we are set apart. Being queer gives us a different perspective, while being people of faith aligns us with the Sacred's ideal of returning hurt with love. It is a difficult path to follow, especially when facing the Adoni-bezek (shall we say "lords of the straight") in our lives. We can treat others with dignity (even if they don't "deserve" it) or we can treat others as they have treated us. One opens up a path toward new patterns of relations, the other simply repeats the old patterns of dominance.

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