Monday, July 11, 2005

Another Story to Struggle With...

Our pastor's sermon last week came from Genesis 27. It's Jacob's story of treachery and trickery. Wealth and power by deceit. And we're left wondering, Where is God in such a story? Here's an excerpt from Cindy's very powerful sermon.

The practice of primogeniture, in which the inheritance goes to the oldest son, was not just one rule among many, but was, according to Walter Brueggemann, the linchpin of an entire social and legal system which defined rights and privileges. In other words, this was how everyone knew who got what, right? You change this one thing, and the whole system could collapse. Just think if when people died, they began divide up their stuff among the slaves, and just think, if when people died, they began to divide up their stuff among the women? Pretty soon, you’d have slaves that wouldn’t need to work anymore, pretty soon, you’d have women that wouldn’t need to cook and wash and kiss their husband’s feet anymore…Couldn’t have that happen, could you?

You see, the culture of ancient Israel, like ours, was built on the basis of certain fundamental assumptions. These assumptions served and serve to keep the powerful in power. Walter Wink calls these “delusional assumptions,” and lists a whole slew of them. He says that it’s not just the powerful who believe and use these assumptions. The powerless also often swallow them hook, line, and sinker. Which helps us to understand why so many of the working poor voted for George Bush. He says that “the church has no more important task than to expose these delusionary assumptions as the Dragon’s game.”

Among these assumptions are:

•The need to control society and prevent chaos requires some to dominate others

•Those who dominate may use other people as a means to achieve their goals

•Men are better equipped by nature to be dominant than women, and some races are naturally suited to dominate others

•Violence is redemptive, the only language enemies understand

•Ruling or managing is the most important of all social functions

•Therefore rulers and managers should be rewarded by extra privileges and greater wealth of all kinds

•Money is the most important value

•The possession of money is a sign and proof of political and social worth

•Property is sacred, and property ownership is an absolute right

•In a nation or organization, great size is proof of its power and value

Some of us may even now be thinking, “So, and what’s wrong with that?”

Wink says that we’re socialized into our roles at an early age by means of these delusional assumptions. Dar Williams sings a great song, “When I Was a Boy,” about how when she was little, she learned to fight like Peter Pan, and she climbed on everything that she could find, and went all around with grass-stained shirts and dirty knees, she was fearless back when she was a boy…but how now that she’s grown, she has to have someone walk her home at night…Society has changed her, cheated her, taken away a valuable part of who she is. And she sings,

And I tell the man I'm with

About the other life I lived

And I say now you're top gun

I have lost and you have won

And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see

When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked

And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked

And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do

And I have lost some kindness

But I was a girl too

And you were just like me, and I was just like you

But they were socialized at an early age into their roles by means of these delusional assumptions. Boys are tough and girls are tender.

So Jacob would have been socialized at an early age, too. As the youngest son, he would have grown up knowing that he could never receive ever the blessing. It just wasn’t done that way.

But what this story says to us is that even though it might not be “done that way,” that we have the power to do it differently. And that might mean that we have to step out of the bounds that society has prescribed for us, and that might mean that we have to risk and struggle and suffer, and that might mean that those who are in power and that those who are not in power, but who have nevertheless swallowed the delusional assumptions of our culture, will be greatly offended by our attitudes and by our actions. But this story comes down through the ages as a witness that we can choose to do it differently. To challenge those assumptions which maim and bind and destroy and diminish.

by Cindy Weber, who knows justice when she sees it


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