Friday, July 11, 2014

Naked In Public (Jonah 1:4-12)

     Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship's cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep.
     The captain approached him and said, "What are our doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won't perish."
     "Come on!" the sailors said to each other. "Let's cast lots. Then we'll know who is to blame for this trouble we're in." So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. Then they said to him, "Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we're in. What is our business and where are you from? What is your country and what people are you from?
     He answered them, "I'm a Hebrew. I worship Adoniah, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land."
     Then the men were even more afraid and said to him, "What is this you've done?" The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord's presence, because he had told them. So they said to him,"What should we do to you to calm this sea that's against us?" For the sea was getting worse and worse.
     He answered them, "Pick me up and throw me into the sea so it may quiet down for you, for I know that I'm to blame for this violent storm that is against you."   
Jonah 1:4-12 HCSB

The American Jewish literary scholar, Janet Howe Gaines says, "The book of Jonah is a gateway to solving the perplexing dilemma of how to forgive our enemies." With Gaines' insight on the theme of Jonah we begin to understand that the request to forgive shakes us out of our status quo and into a new challenge and undertaking. 

At this early point in the narrative Jonah has chosen to refuse the request to forgive. Instead he has made the choice to hang onto his anger, jealousy, and hatred. He will not forgive the Assyrians for their liquidation of the ten northern tribes of Israel. And why should he? They have neither shown contrition nor asked for reconciliation. It is only the Sacred that seeks to grant what has not been sought after by these perpetrators of degradation and death. Even by our standards today, Jonah has every right to wish his foes ill and work for their undoing.

Part of the "perplexing dilemma" is that by holding onto his sense of righteous outrage Jonah denys who he is. With the storm threatening to sink the ship he finally speaks up and says, "I'm a Hebrew. I worship Adoniah, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land." Which is Hebrew Scripture speak for "I am connected to the source of life." Even then, he holds back his identity as a prophet of God. 

Jonah's determination to run from who he is and to suppress his self-identity has made its way into modern psychology parlance as the Jonah Complex or Jonah Syndrome. Abraham Maslow defines the complex as a fear of success which prevents self-actualization and the realization of our potential. The complex is aroused by the dread of taking on the responsibility that attends self-understanding. Maslow believes that knowing ourselves might force us to make fundamental, unwanted changes in the way we view our lives. It is like being stripped naked in public, but instead of fearing the faults in our bodies, we fear the intensity of our beauty.

There is a correlation here between Jonah's perplexing dilemma and the lives of queer folk. To name ourselves as "queer" or some other term within sexual and gender diversity is also to take on the responsibility which attends this naming. Once we name ourselves publicly we open our lives up to the full onslaught of the queer experience from hate and rejection to love and acceptance and all the nuances in between while still to negotiating the experiences common to all humanity. 

Here's the enigma: until Jonah owns up to who he is and what he can accomplish then his life, the life of the crew, and by implications the lives of all those in Nineveh are in jeopardy. Honesty in this story is rewarded. For queer folk it is often honesty around our sexual orientation which leads us into jeopardy, not away from it. Hence like Jonah we may be tempted to bury deep down our core self-understanding. 

Jonah owns up to who he is, yet still seeks to keep distant from the responsibility that attends his self-understanding. Without a connection to his core being, and the God who placed that core within him, Jonah is doomed. The passage ends with Jonah's body slipping beneath the waves, plunging into the abyss.

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