Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deborah: a reflection on redemptive violence


I’m surprised to find a young man inside a refrigerator box asleep on the steps. That hasn’t happened in awhile. And behind him I see crutches. Sorry, but you’re going to have to leave…services coming up…
Uh, it’ll take a few minutes, OK?
Uh, yeah, sure. I ask Stephen S to see if he needs help getting it together.

Jeremy’s first Sunday back. He’s warming up and getting ready. Russ is first to arrive after our adventures yesterday passing out fliers for West-Park at the Avakian-West dialogue.

Our first hymn is Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee, aka Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, to which Jeremy adds a little Eric Burdon and the Animals We Gotta Get Out of this Place. (….It actually does work, though we sing it straight…and a nod to Eddie and the Otters for that idea, though that’s another story…

Jeremy has worked out a sung response to our Psalm 123: To you O Lord we lift our eyes.

Our reflection scripture is Judges 4: 1-7. Just a teaser on the story of Deborah. One of those places where the lectionary cops out. So I have us do a readers’ theatre of the rest of the story.

I was originally going to stick with Matthew, but when I heard about their discussion last week about the difference in perspective between men and women, I knew I had to use a rare story that was driven by a woman’s agency.

This was the time of the Judges. The confederation of tribes had leaders who were both adjudicators and military leaders. She wants to take on (and take out) Jabin, King of the Canaanites. (Who were indigenous to the land, by the way…) Her commander Barak is hesitant to go without Deborah, so she agrees to go, only she warns Barak that Sisera, Jabin’s general, will fall to a woman.

Sisera’s army is routed. He flees to the tent of Jael, whose people are allied with Sisera. After calming him and giving him milk to relax, when he falls asleep, she drives a tent peg through his head. And when Barak arrives, she shows him what she did.

This is clearly an FX/HBO style story. Mature audiences…Language, violence, sexual situations…shifting alliances like the houses in Game of Thrones, or the gangs in Sons of Anarchy. As Marsha reminds us in community organizing, there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies…

Russ  raises the issue that what we’re dealing with here is the myth of redemptive violence, biblically based. Our American culture is saturated with it. (See above). Even in the dialogue between Avakian and West, neither spoke definitively on the violence issue. And the tu quoque argument about the violence of the empire gets us nowhere.  

Marsha likes that Jael’s action is direct and to the point. John R says, That’s reality…God is not the kindly grandfather, God is just God, the Bible is what it is.
And for Jeremy, that’s why he chooses not to rely on the Bible. And Russ speaks to how these stories become the mythic narrative that supports what is.

There are a number of points to make.
1.   We all have a hermeneutic, an interpretive key by which we interpret everything else. What Cornell West said yesterday for him, IE, God is love,that goes for me too. Anything doesn’t make sense through that lens has to be witnessed against. As former Riverside pastor Brad Braxton once said, sometimes we are called on to preach against the text. We are called to witness against, create an alternative to a culture of redemptive violence.
2.   The time of judges was a time pre-monarchy. In a time of covenant based confederacy, the emergence of a woman’s leadership is much easier than in a hierarchical monarchy.
3.   Which is why historically, women’s leadership would emerge in horizontally based church structures while vertical hierarchies have been more resistant to change.
4.   We need to be about the work of creating communities of covenant relationship, committed to love that is effective, not sentimental and resist the culture of redemptive violence. Our own embodiments of the beloved community to which we are called.

Our final song of the day is Soon and very Soon…While we are singing, Pastor Kadisha has entered the sanctuary with his daughter. He joins us for our final circle of blessing, with little Xavier joyfully singing Amen.

Jeremy rocks out with one more Beethoven/Burdon riff…

Pastor Kadisha will have his first service here this afternoon.

The Revcoms are upstairs celebrating yesterday's turn out, over 1500 at Riverside Church.

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