Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Naming Jephthah's Daughter...


A sermon from pastor Cindy, from last Sunday in the wake of the shootings in Orlando...
++++++++++++
Judges 11 excerpt...

...and Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,  whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands.
 

When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.  But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.

From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

This is, to me, the most horrible story in the Bible. It’s not the most graphic or vicious, but it is the most horrible, in that it is a story of man sacrificing his own daughter in the name of his god.

If you read the beginning of the chapter, you see that Jephthah was the illegitimate son of Gilead. His mother was a prostitute. When Gilead’s other, legitimate sons were grown up, they drove Jephthah away, saying, “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family, because you’re the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers, which makes it sound like they were either violent or threatened violence, and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.

He evidently made a reputation for himself, because later on, when the Israelites were fighting the Ammonites, the elders of Gilead, that is, his brothers, needing some good fighters, came to him, and said, “Come, be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.” To which Jephthah responded, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” “Nevertheless” they said, “we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.”

Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?” Notice Jephthah is bringing God into it, for his own purposes. “The Lord is our witness,” they said, “we will do as you say.” So he went back to Gilead with them and became their leader.

He then sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, “Why have you attacked my country?” The king says, “It’s not your country. You took it from us when you left the land of Egypt,” back and forth, and eventually, there was a was. Jephthah was winning, but suddenly unsure of himself, perhaps, insecure about his future (?), in the midst of battle, he made his awful, horrible, thoughtless, stupid, selfish, wicked beyond measure vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Twenty devasted towns later, Jephthah returns home as the victor.

And in the tradition of Miriam and the women who played the tamborines and danced and sang when Pharaoh and his soldiers drowned in the Red Sea, in the tradition of the women who met David after he defeated the Philistines, dancing and singing, this wasn’t something that had never happened before, Jephthah’s daughter, his only daughter, his only child, runs out the door to greet him, dancing to the sound of timbrels.

When Jephthah sees that it is his daughter who he has vowed to sacrifice, he tears his clothes, which is a sign of great grief. You could almost feel sorry for him if you didn’t listen to what he said next. “Oh no, my daughter!” he cried. “You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” Some of the Jewish texts add, “you are a stumbling block to me.” YOU have brought ME down? And I am devastated? Are you freaking kidding me? This was HER fault???

Citing the way the Hebrew is used here, Phyliss Trible writes, At the moment of recognition and disclosure, Jephthah thinks of himself and indicts his daughter for the predicament, thus, I would add, giving him an out, a justification in in his twisted, evil mind for his actions. You have brought me down. This is your fault.

Well, we’ve heard it before, haven’t we? All these centuries later, it’s still around. It’s what’s we call blaming the victim, and it happens all the time. Robert and I have been watching some of a documentary about the O.J. Simpson trial over the last few nights until I just felt so sick that I couldn’t watch it anymore. One of the things that came up over and over was how people blamed Nicole for not leaving O.J. sooner than she did. In an interview, one of the jurors, now an old woman, was, all these years later, even knowing all the facts, still scathing in her remarks about how weak Nicole was, as if it were her fault that she was murdered.

But we don’t just blame the victim in cases of domestic violence, do we? There were two teen brothers shot and killed about three weeks ago, you may recall, and on the same day that their mother identified their bodies, the Director of the Urban League, and this is supposed to be a progressive organization, blasted her, tore her down publicly, saying on WHAS, “Where was the parent who was supposed to say why didn’t my child come home last night?”

Blaming people who are vulnerable, oh, it’s just so easy, whether we’re “progressive” or not, it’s just so easy.

So, as I said, you could almost feel sorry for Jephthah if he hadn’t opened his mouth. But he does, he opens it the first time to make a horrific vow, horrific no matter who walked through the door, and the second time to blame his daughter for being that person.

Now his daughter responds in this way that doesn’t make sense to us in our culture. She basically says, “That’s alright, Daddy. You’ve made a promise to God, and you’ve got to fulfill it. Can I have two months to wander in the hills with my friends before you kill me?”

Now, some commentators ask why she didn’t fight it, why she didn’t stand up to him, why she didn’t run away. And nowadays, maybe she would have. Hopefully she would have. But my guess is that she was very shrewd here. Perhaps she thought it through in an instant as she stood there. She had no power whatsoever. The best she could hope for was time, and that’s what she went for. Boldly and strategically. Can I have two months in the hills with my friends to mourn my virginity? she asked. She cut to what was to her culture, the heart of the things, not her life, but her worth. She asked to for time to mourn her virginity, in other words, to mourn the fact that she would never be able to bear children for some man, and to carry on Jephthah’s name as well. Good move. And maybe in that time, who knows? Maybe he would change his mind, maybe someone would intervene, maybe…

And in fact, a rabbinical commentary on the story tells us how and why Jephthah, even after making a vow to God could have and should have done differently:

Jephthah was an ignorant man, else he would have known that a vow of that kind is not valid; according to R. Johanan, Jephthah had merely to pay a certain sum to the sacred treasury of the Temple in order to be freed from the vow; according to R. Simeon ben Laḳish, he was free even without such a payment (Gen. R. l.c.; comp. Lev. R. xxxvii. 3). According to Tan., Beḥuḳḳotai, 7, and Midrash Haggadah to Lev. xxvii. 2, even when Jephthah made the vow God was irritated against him: “What will Jephthah do if an unclean animal comes out to meet him?”

Later, when he was on the point of immolating his daughter, she inquired, “Is it written in the Torah that human beings should be brought as burnt offerings?” He replied, “My daughter, my vow was, ‘whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house.'” She answered, “But Jacob, too, vowed that he would give to Yhwh the tenth part of all that Yhwh gave him (Gen. xxviii. 22); did he sacrifice any of his sons?” But Jephthah remained inflexible.

So according to tradition, Jephthah’s daughter did try to change her father’s mind…

It’s noted more than once that she is virgin, and this is for at least two reasons, the first being that in the culture of the time, her value wasn’t based on her own life, but rather on the descendants that she will have, that was her worth as a woman, and two, that in Leviticus, it says that the daughters of priests who are caught fornicating can be burned. So the narrator is making it clear that it’s not just her life that we’re talking about, but the lives of her descendants, AND that there’s no legal grounds on which to kill her.
But that none of that stops Jephthah from doing what he promised his god that he would do.

So that’s most of the story. What do we do with it?

Well, I’d like to suggest that mainly we ask questions about it, and the questions will vary, perhaps, depending on where we are in terms of how we think about the world and God.

For example, when I was a young Southern Baptist, my questions would have been along the lines of, “Why did God cause this to happen?” That’s because I believed that everything that happened in the Bible was God’s will.

As I got older, my ideas about how to interpret the Bible changed, and I would have asked, “Why did God allow this to happen?” That’s because I believed that God was in control of everything that happened, no matter how bad it was, and so while God didn’t cause it, God did allow it, meaning that God could have kept it from happening if God wanted to.

But now I’m more likely to ask, “Where is God in this?” And quite frankly, in a story like this one, that’s hard to answer.

A question we’ve already asked is, “Why didn’t Jephthah’s daughter fight back?” And I’ve addressed that a little bit already. “Why didn’t Jephthah’s wife fight back?” “Why didn’t Jephthah’s priest advise him differently?” “Why didn’ t more people get involved in this?” And maybe they did. Jephthah was, after all, a thug.

But even so, why did Jephthah cause this to happen? Once he realized that it was his daughter, why did he allow his pride, his reputation to override his love of family? Especially now that we know that he could have simply paid an offering? You may have some other questions as you think about the story.

I think that some of the most important questions, though, are, why do WE allow this kind of thing to happen? Why do we allow the powerful to sacrifice the children, the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicts, the vulnerable?

How are we complicit in such sacrifices, and what can we do about it?

You know, Jephthah’s daughter was never named in the text. But we can name her, can’t we?

Forty-nine people were sacrificed in Orlando last Sunday morning. Sacrificed by the politicians and the gun lobbyists who support the right to bear any arms by, it would seem, any person at any time under any circumstances, and many of whom like Jephthah, use God’s name to justify their evil, sacrificed by a fundamentalist, anti-gay ideology that also uses God’s name to legitimize discrimination, sacrificed, perhaps, by the self-hatred that comes from a culture that has discarded, discredited, and discounted gay and lesbian and transgender persons. 
 
The children of Flint, Michigan, 57% black, and 40% poor, were sacrificed by a system that wanted to save money by switching their water supply, exposing all 9,000 children under the age of six to lead, which can lead to irreversible brain damage. The politicians and public officials, while ignoring the damage they were causing to the general population, were, however, sensitive to the needs of General Motors. When the head of GM went to Gov. Snyder to complain that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line, he arranged for them to receive water from Lake Huron. So while the cars were being washed with clean water, the people were drinking lead.

Yes, we can name Jephthah’s daughter. We could name her all day long…

Phyliss Trible, who writes about this and other “Texts of Terror,” as she calls them, says that these texts are mirrors, and unfortunately, she is right about this one. This is a story that is taking place all around us all the time. It mirrors our world. And it doesn’t have a happy ending. But even as it mirrors the terrors of our world, it also mirrors a bit of the grace, and that, my brothers and sisters, that is where we find God in this story.

Jephthah’s daughter went to the hills for two months, where she wept with her friends. They weren’t able to keep her from dying, though I’d imagine that they hoped and dreamed together, that they plotted and planned together. But no, in the end, they weren’t able to keep her from dying, but they were able to share her grief, her pain, her story. They were able to listen and to comfort and maybe to laugh together a bit and to remember and to weep and to weep and to weep. And that is where we find God in this story. In the tears of those who loved her and in her own.

The story ends by telling us that every year, the young women of Israel would go out for four days to commemorate Jephthah’s daughter. In other words, this young woman who was a nothing, who was worth nothing, became a Jewish tradition. I don’t what difference it made. How much stronger the women of Israel became. But my guess is that the women of Israel were strengthened as they gathered together, as they mourned together, as they plotted and planned and hoped and dreamed together, as they remembered and wept together.

Sometimes we can stand up against evil, and when we do, God is there. Sometimes, the best we can do is gather together and weep, and when we do, God is there. May we be a mirror of God’s grace in this world full of terror.

Monday, May 16, 2016

One Voice


Pentecost, 2016.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.”

Peter’s Sermon

But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them: “Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:

And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all HUMANITY;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.
And I will grant wonders in the sky above
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
The sun will be turned into darkness
And the moon into blood,
Before the great and glorious day of the Lord shall come.
And it shall be that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved...’

~Acts 2

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Easter 2016



Easter at Jeff Street, above. Celebrating and embracing life and grace, below...

"The mockingbird took a single step into the air and dropped.

His wings were still folded against his sides as though he were singing from a limb and not falling, accelerating thirty-two feet per second per second, through empty air.

Just a breath before he would have been dashed to the ground, he unfurled his wings with exact, deliberate care, revealing the broad bars of white, spread his elegant, white-banded tail, and so floated onto the grass.

I had just rounded a corner when his incouciant step caught my eye; there was no one else in sight. The fact of his free fall was like the old philosophical conundrum about the tree that falls in the forest.

The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."

~Annie Dillard

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Blessed Jesus


Sweet music from Jon, Cindy and Michelle (with Dan tagging along...)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

In the News...


Our own Mackenzie Berry was covered on WPFL news today, read all about it...

On a recent Saturday afternoon at the McQuixote Coffee and Books in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, past the usual sounds of an espresso grinder and indie rock mixed with conversation, one could hear impassioned slam-style poetry.

“They say Muhammad Ali was as much talk as punch,
that he could move a nation with a rhyme,
that he spoke so strong
people gathered in crowds to see him weak,
the Louisville Lip.”

High school senior Mackenzie Berry, 17, was reading her ode to The Greatest as part of a workshop with Young Poets of Louisville. The nonprofit is designed to teach the craft of poetry and provide young people with a creative outlet. The group offers free workshops for teenagers twice a month.
There were three students at this workshop: Mackenzie, a student at DuPont Manual High School; Jalen Posey from Central High School; and Alex Edison from Eastern High School.

Lance Newman, a poet, teacher and performer, led the workshop. Newman works with young people in a variety of capacities, including outreach work with Roots and Wings, a new poetry-based performance group.

“When you first did that poem at the slam, I wanted Muhammad Ali energy,” he said to Mackenzie.
While much of Newman’s advice centered on her delivery — that day’s workshop focused on performance — he also talked to the kids about rhythm, rhyme, imagery, intention and all the other tools a poet might employ. Mackenzie wasn’t the only one speaking. The students chimed in offering their responses and thoughts on each other’s work, as in a traditional workshop.

Newman advises the group in a variety of ways, but he isn’t the person in charge. That job falls to Mackenzie, Young Poets’ founder.

Read more...

http://wfpl.org/louisville-young-poets-bring-passion-page-stage/

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Marrakesh Declaration


This last week, our sister, Karen, was at a conference in Marrakesh, where this vital declaration was signed by Muslim leaders re-affirming a traditional Islamic belief in religious liberty. Important, history-making stuff, this.

The Marrakesh Declaration

WHEREAS, conditions in various parts of the Muslim World have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflicts and imposing one's point of view;
WHEREAS, this situation has also weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort its fundamental principles and goals in ways that have seriously harmed the population as a whole;
WHEREAS, this year marks the 1,400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina, a constitutional contract between the Prophet Muhammad, God's peace and blessings be upon him, and the people of Medina, which guaranteed the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith;
WHEREAS, hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organizations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, gathered in Marrakesh on this date to reaffirm the principles of the Charter of Medina at a major conference;
WHEREAS, this conference was held under the auspices of His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and organized jointly by the Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies based in the United Arab Emirates;
AND NOTING the gravity of this situation afflicting Muslims as well as peoples of other faiths throughout the world, and after thorough deliberation and discussion, the convened Muslim scholars and intellectuals:
DECLARE HEREBY our firm commitment to the principles articulated in the Charter of Medina, whose provisions contained a number of the principles of constitutional contractual citizenship, such as freedom of movement, property ownership, mutual solidarity and defense, as well as principles of justice and equality before the law; and that,
The objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.
NOTING FURTHER that deep reflection upon the various crises afflicting humanity underscores the inevitable and urgent need for cooperation among all religious groups, we
AFFIRM HEREBY that such cooperation must be based on a "Common Word," requiring that such cooperation must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.

BASED ON ALL OF THE ABOVE, we hereby:
Call upon Muslim scholars and intellectuals around the world to develop a jurisprudence of the concept of "citizenship" which is inclusive of diverse groups. Such jurisprudence shall be rooted in Islamic tradition and principles and mindful of global changes.
Urge Muslim educational institutions and authorities to conduct a courageous review of educational curricula that addesses honestly and effectively any material that instigates aggression and extremism, leads to war and chaos, and results in the destruction of our shared societies;
Call upon politicians and decision makers to take the political and legal steps necessary to establish a constitutional contractual relationship among its citizens, and to support all formulations and initiatives that aim to fortify relations and understanding among the various religious groups in the Muslim World;
Call upon the educated, artistic, and creative members of our societies, as well as organizations of civil society, to establish a broad movement for the just treatment of religious minorites in Muslim countries and to raise awareness as to their rights, and to work together to ensure the success of these efforts.
Call upon the various religious groups bound by the same national fabric to address their mutual state of selective amnesia that blocks memories of centuries of joint and shared living on the same land; we call upon them to rebuild the past by reviving this tradition of conviviality, and restoring our shared trust that has been eroded by extremists using acts of terror and aggression;
Call upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, villification, and denegration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promote hatred and bigotry; AND FINALLY,
AFFIRM that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.

Marrakesh
January 2016 ,27th

Friday, December 04, 2015

Ring Them Bells


Ringing in Advent...