Friday, February 14, 2014

Shivering (Judges 6:2-6)

Once more, Israel  did evil in the sight of Adoni and for seven years Adoni gave the people into the hands of the Midianites. They were so oppressive that the Israelites found refuge in the mountains, in caves and dens. Wherever the Israelites sowed crops, the Medianites, Amalekites, and other eastern tribes would arrive to attack them, pitching tents opposite them and destroying their crops as far as the outskirts of Gaza. They would leave nothing living, not sheep, oxen, or donkeys. They would come up with their livestock and their tents, swarming like locusts; they and their camels were beyond counting, invading the land and ravaging it. Midian so impoverished the Isrealites  that they cried out to Adoni for help.
Judges 6:2-6 HCSB

We start with families huddling in the secretive shadows of caves. Father's straining to hear the footsteps of those wanting to harm their wives and children. Mothers seeking to comfort their kids. Youth and children whimpering and wondering what they had done to deserve such hate and antagonism. It is a harsh reality of life in the Levant at the beginning of Iron Age heralded by a collapse of many societies around the Mediterranean. It was a world in which to eat or be eaten. Hiding in the caves it must have felt they were being eaten.

The above painting by Lopez is born out of such oppression of Mexican females seeking entrance into the USA. In spite of what you may think the oppression occurs while still south of the border. A description of the painting says that this print "addresses the murders of women and girls on the US-Mexican border" where more than 300 hundred young women and girls have been found either tortured or dead in and around the town of Juarez, Mexico. Too many females eaten up in a harsh patriarchic system.

Various elements of the print represent distinct feminine and funeral imagery of Mexico. Let us note the Virgin of Guadalupe in the background. In the interpretation of this print I have come across the Virgin is a symbol of motherhood. Possibly, and given some expressions of Mary the mother of Christ, the representation is of sorrowing motherhood, the mother in morning over the death of her child. For the purpose of engaging our text I would like to push this image a bit further and possibly beyond the intent of the Lopez. In some traditions of chrstianity Mary not only represents eternal motherhood, but also the femine aspect of God. She appears as a faint shadow, pink upon pink she hardly stands out, and in some ways is nondescript. Yet, there she is bringing the presence of God into a horrible scene of violence, oppression, and death. 

The same dynamic is at play in our text. For the moment let's suspend the opening formulaic sentence about the Israelite's doing evil in the sight of God. We'll return to it, but for now we can acknowledge that this is a recurring saying in the book of Judges and as such is an interpretation of the cause of oppression within the theology of the book's author. 

When we remove the introductory formula we encounter a scene out of the Pixar movie A Bugs Life. The plot of this movie is that a tribe of ants work all summer long to harvest food for themselves and also for a gang of grasshoppers which come through expecting to be fed or they will exterminate the ants. So too we find Israel exploited, running to caves and hiding as their enemies like "locust" destroy their crops, kill their animals, and leave their homes decimated. The psychological terror of genocide is ugly. Not only were food supplies destroyed, but the very source of their food was attacked and eviscerated. We are left only with huddling and scared families hiding in crevices and shadows. 

In the midst of these circumstances the Israelites cried out to God for help as does Lopez to some degree in her print. In a time when capitulating to what appeared as the stronger god/dess may have seem the more prudent course of action, those scared and shattered people clung to God to see them through.

One of the ways I approach the book of Judges is as a coming out narrative, and to be precise as a narrative of a very fumbled and at times disastrous coming out. Hence that formulaic opening - "once more"! Unfortunately for many a queer person leaving the closet also entails a behavior of "once more" leaving God. There's a sound reason for this - the church in all its inglorious vanity and pompous ignorance. Still we must confess our own lack of shrewdness if we cannot separate the God of life and wholeness from the very human and errant edifice of the church. 

Returning to Lopez's print, Our Lady of Guadalupe is herself a divine protest against European hegemony in the new world. Here among native peoples - tribes facing an onslaught of genocide as the early Israelites faced - God appears as the Mother of the oppressed and not the Father of the oppressor. So too in our text there is an implicit understanding that the hand of God is with Israel and not those who would spoil her. 

I tend to think that like Israel, God has set aside les-bi-gay-trans-intersex-asexul-queer people, not for the punishment, but for blessing. Like Israel we carry the mark of a covenant, a sexual covenant. Since same-gender loving typically does not lead to reproduction, God has used same-gender coupling to protest against the hegemony of reproduction as the sole mandate for sexual relations. And like Israel the mark of the covenant makes us a target.

As we come out and engage the world we do so with a mixture of courage and fear. With courage we make strides in Europe and North America, Australia and parts of South America. With fear we watch developments in Africa and Russia, some parts of the Middle East and some parts of Asia. The midst of our coming out is also our time to wrestle with God. To turn to the one who created us gay and ask for this One's help in staking our claims of personal-identity and self-determination beyond the traditional roles of sex, reproduction, and binary-gender expectations. 

There are times when hiding in caves will save our lives, I don't want those who are in threat of death to unnecessarily throw their lives away. As this story unfolds we will also find there are times when we will want to engage the world. Those times are marked by God's presence as the Israelite discovered, as Lopez explored with Our Lady, and as queer people experience in the face of a recalcitrant heteroarchy.

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