Two Women Came to the King.
One woman said, “Oh king, this woman and I live in the same house. I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Three days later, she also gave birth to a child. We were the only two in the house.
“Then, her son died in the night. So she switched our babies while I was asleep. When I woke up in the morning, I found my son, dead. But when I looked at him carefully, I realized it was not my son.”
The other woman said, “No! This living baby is my child. The dead son is yours!”
But the first woman said, “No! The living one is my son!” And they argued like this before the king.
Then the king said, “Both of you believe you have a claim on the living child.” So he turned to his servant and said, “Get me a sword.” So they brought the king a sword.
The king said, “Divide the child in two!”
“Give his heritage and nature to the one and his rearing and education to the other. Let him always be torn between two warring identities, having affection for both mothers but never fully belonging to either. In this way, let him suffer as long as he lives so that you will each have what you claim to be yours.”
Then, the woman who was the mother of the living child spoke to the king, for she loved her son fiercely, and said “Oh king, give her the living child. Do not let him suffer this way!”
But the other woman said, “Divide him!”
Then the king said, “Give the first woman the living child and by no means tear him apart. Surely the woman who is willing to lose him completely in order to spare him suffering, is his true mother.”
When all the land heard of the judgement the king handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that God had given him wisdom to administer justice.
Sometimes I read a story and my mind wonders. I see threads of connection that my imagination runs with it. With all the researching and writing about the adoption industry that I’ve been doing, I read the story of Solomon in 1 Kings, and another story emerged.
I saw the dynamics of modern adoption corruption, where children are stolen. I saw a child’s identity being erased and replaced in order to fill a void in a grieving woman. I saw a vulnerable mother seeking justice and finding a horrific “solution”. I saw a women with no choice, relinquishing her baby because she believed it meant his life would be spared. I saw the powers-that-be, who know the devastation of family separation, using it as a strategy to manipulate the vulnerable, and being praised for their good judgement.
The story in the Bible ends with justice, with the baby being given back to his mother. But that does not always happen in our world. First mothers who have been tricked or coerced, do not always receive justice and get their baby back. Many adoptees are forever divided, spending our lives trying to stitch together two identities that keep pulling us back apart.
So I changed details of the story as a creative writing exercise, not a spiritual meditation or theological statement. Don’t read too much into that. I hope this helps illustrates, though, how different the perspectives of adoptees can be.
I have a weird habit of writing blog length Facebook posts. I’m pulling some of them from Facebook and posting them here. This one was from June 24th, 2019. The crisis at the the border, refugee children in cages, the drowning of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 2 year old daughter, Angie Valeria were all on my mind.
Also on my mind was the book of Esther. My church had just finished a sermon series on Esther and no, our pastor never connected the story of Esther to immigration issues. There was mention, though, about the oppression, injustice, racial (or ethnic) violence and genocide brought up in that story.
So all of that was swimming in my head and heart as I grieved current events. And these thoughts poured out. I’m reposting them here with some edits.
The book of Esther is rarely taught and if so, often poorly. We typically hear about Esther in Sunday School. Veggie Tales animated it. It’s a story for little girls, right? If you want to give your little girls nightmares, sure.
We NEED to read and tell Esther’s story understanding the Rated R elements it contains and not the Disney princess version for children’s church. I have to wonder how we can read what is plainly stated in that book and have gotten such a twisted perspective of it.
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that our western cultural understanding of what we read in Esther was, for generations, shaped by the white male perspective. A perspective that has historically minimized sexual violence against women, villainized women who disobey male authority (Vashti), and is threatened by the abrupt and radical social justice bent of this story.
I might have to write a pitch for a Netflix, biblical fiction mini series. I might have already started. 😉
Esther was a victim of government sponsored child trafficking and sexual slavery. Her adoptive dad was powerless to stop them from taking her. Esther’s story is an absolute nightmare. Yet we have read this story for ages as a ‘beauty pageant’ and re-named the theft of her childhood and preparation of her body for rape a “year of spa treatments”.
And God help me, I can not help but think about the children detained by our government, how last year at about this time some people were saying this was just like ‘summer camp’. I can’t help but think about how we have re-named what is going on, putting the blame on their own powerless families, while our government has taken children as young as two and three, treating them worse than dogs.
In order to save the Jewish people, laws had to be broken. Mordecai asked Esther to break the law, and she did, several times, going before the King without an invitation. What other options did they have? We want to read it like no big deal, like of course the good king would love to see her.
No. He was not a good king. He was a volatile and unpredictable despot, among other things. She took a very real and serious risk of being executed to save her people from genocide.
And God help me, I cannot help but see a parallel between the families who are risking everything to save their children from terror, coming before such a powerful nation without invitation (documents) for help, and being pronounced an enemy and taken into captivity.
So many calloused, white American Christians sit comfy in their fixed mortgaged homes judging refugee parents for “putting their children in harms way” and for breaking our laws (a misdemeanor level offense). Meanwhile we will praise Esther for being brave and completely ignore that she committed a crime punishable by death.
It took the threat of genocide for Mordecai and Esther to wake the eff up. Prior to that edict, they were trying to be as Persian as possible. They were just trying to survive and they didn’t challenge or resist a host of horrible things their ruler their society did.
It took the pronounced of death for their entire ethnic group to realize they could not continue going along with the craziness of their all-powerful King and country. Esther realized she could no longer deny being a member of her own ethnicity (as her uncle taught her to do) but must identify with the Jewish people completely and bind her fate with theirs.
I cannot help but see a parallel between those of us who feel at home in the USA, who justify going along with the craziness of what we’re doing. How we are so adamant that law cannot be broken to save lives. How we use race and place of birth to deny that we are called to identify with the poor, the widows, orphans and foreigners in our land.
How bad does it have to get before we wake up? How genocide-y does our country have to become before we’ll wake the eff up and do something?
It wasn’t enough to stop Haman. Esther sets up her formal dinner trap and succeeds in outing Haman and his evil plot to the king. Haman gets hanged, but the Jews are still going to die because the king’s edicts cannot be changed.
As we read through Esther again, we saw how removing one powerful bad guy was not enough. Esther had to break the law again, go back to the king and REMIND HIM that the free-hunting on Jews day was STILL on the calendar and her people were STILL destined to die.
Right now, it’s hard not to see a certain president or someone holding a secretary of whatever position as “The Bad Guy”. But come on, people. There is no one person who we can get rid of that would stop the widespread hate or end the apathy toward non-American, non-white people. We don’t just have a bad president issue or a corrupt government issue, we have a whole of society issue.
Like Esther and Mordecai, we need to realize the positions God has placed us in as Christian citizens of this country and the power He has given us to counteract that which is unjust and apathetic to the point of cruelty in our own leaders/rulers/government… and truly, in ourselves.
When Esther reminds the king of the real problem, he doesn’t take it upon himself to find a solution. The king just doesn’t get that this anti-Jew violence thing is a big deal or seem to care much. He makes Esther and Mordecai figure out a solution. Your people, your problem.
When the day comes and the king sees just how many people were willing to attack the Jews even though they were legally allowed to fight back, he realizes oh…there really is lot of hate toward the Jews, huh? Then he finally cares enough to ask Esther for advice on what to do about it.
Like kings in secure castles, we refuse to see how big of a deal our current forms racism and xenophobia are in our country because it isn’t directed at us. We distance ourselves so we can say, “your people, your problem.” How much ugly will we excuse before we take this seriously? When will we actually seek and listen to the voices of the marginalized? When will we follow their lead into action?
One issue many have with the book of Esther is the lack of action or voice attributed to God. Where was God while His chosen people were almost wiped from the face of the earth? It never says Esther or Mordecai received a message from a prophet that told them what to do. It never says God spoke to anyone in that whole damn book. Some really evil crap goes down and God just let it happen.
And yet, for such a time as that, someone who was just barely close enough to the king gets uncharacteristically assertive and uses all her resources to prevent the slaughter of millions. Esther womans up. Esther fasts and prays and acts.
I struggle a lot with not just how we let this happen (criminalizing refugees, kids in cages being abused, etc), but how it seems God has not moved or acted. Esther is a convicting book because it’s inclusion in the Bible complicates our simple ideas of how God is supposed to work in and through us.
Evil crap is going down right now in God’s name. Like it has throughout the history of Christendom. Yet we are sitting on our hands waiting to agree on what the “right solutions” are or for God to speak in some clear, unmistakeable way, before we stand against what we already know is wrong. Where is our faith? Where is our urgency to PREVENT harm, or, at this point, further harm?
Instead of confronting these hard issues, we retell Esther’s story and make her a lucky girl who became Queen and from her place of power she saved people. She did not have the power we think she did. She was merely one of hundreds of sexual slaves. “Queen” of the concubines most likely does not equal what we think of as Queen (e.g. Queen Elizabeth).
Plus, the king wasn’t really that into her anymore at the time she decided to act and she knew it. The odds were NOT in her favor. Her life was at risk the entire time. Yet, she went against the laws and customs, and prevailed because God wanted her too.
Instead of confronting our apathy and lack of faith, we retell the story of today in a way that makes us out to be heroes. We think that the power we have as a nation is proof of God’s pleasure.
Then we blame the people we have hurt for getting hurt as if we have no choice but to hurt them because they came to us without permission.
We act like man made laws are gospel and cannot be broken or changed or, if they can be, it must be done slowly, over generations.
We believe that, until solutions we can all agree on are found, it is better to err on the side of doing nothing.
We act like we are not called to act, not called to sacrifice a thing to help others, especially those the world considers as of least importance.
When I wrote out these thoughts, my purpose was to lament our situation. It was about speaking up, calling us all out, and seeking an accurate view of our situation. Some people call this prophetic truth-telling, cutting through the appearances of things and getting to the heart of the problem.
Writing this was not about giving solutions and telling people what they should do. However, our western culture cannot handle leaving that out. We tend to accuse people of being divisive and whining if they point out that something is wrong without also offering “an acceptable” solution.
I do hope if you read this it does naturally urge you to ask, what can I do? And so to respond to that, I say we have to care enough to listen to the marginalized voices, follow their lead, and educate ourselves.
You can start by some self-evaluation. Where has God placed you in this world? What resources, influence, and skill sets do you have? Who do you know? If you look around you’ll hear about how people are using their position to do the best they can. One example is Wayfair employees walking out when they heard their company was supplying furniture for the detention centers. In another crisis, Italian dock workers refused to load Saudi vessels carrying weapons to Yemen.
Google is your friend. It is a great place to start. Find out who is doing what in your area. Get involved. I support Felicia Ramos with Project Play. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is another one that I have heard good things about.
This was the 2nd book I got an advanced copy of in 2018. Makes me feel like a I’m in the book world’s cool-kid group. Seriously, though, it was an honor to get to put eyes on these books before they hit the shelves and engage with the authors online. The Color of Compromise is already making an impact. I’m excited to share more about that and how I hope to see this book used in Christian community.
When I talk to (usually white) people about racism, the idea of “complicity” is often a struggle; like holding onto a slippery wet fish. Especially when we start talking about complicity among Christians and the church in general.
The failure to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
Jemar Tisby helps us nail down that fish. Surveying over 350 years of American styles of racism and inequality, readers can see how the church has (as he put it) “chosen comfort over constructive conflict”, often creating but always maintaining a status quo of injustice.
So how does The Color of Compromise use a historical survey to present us with this information?
As I read, I saw three interwoven timelines, spanning from the colonial era of America to the present day:
Going chronologically, this book connects the dots between the 3 timelines to reveal the patterns of the church’s response (or lack thereof) to various forms of racism, focusing on the black-white binary.
For example, Chapter 2 starts with explaining a dilemma in the Virginia colonies over baptizing African slaves who converted to Christianity. The old-world custom was that spiritual brothers in Christ could not enslave one another. Therefore, if a slave converted, there was religious pressure to set him free. Therefore, many slave owners refused to let slaves hear the gospel. However, that didn’t sit well with the church. What to do?!
Tisby explains how the economic priority of free labor influenced the Virginia General Assembly (the governing body at the time) to dictate that baptism would not change someone’s status as free or slave. The church and the slaveholders no longer needed to be at odds over the spiritual salvation of slaves. Missionaries began to focus on the spiritual, not physical, liberation of Christian slaves, and obedience to their masters as a biblical concept. In other words, the church not only went along with chattel slavery but twisted truth to support it.
This clash of economics, politics, racism and the church over the status of slaves is how chattel slavery became law on American soil; 109 years before the Declaration of Independence.
Well, it’s one thing to read that “ancient” history and say…“Yeah, they were so wrong back then.” We are far enough removed from the colonial era that the truth of complicity back then isn’t as threatening to us today. So it’s quite another thing to follow the timeline of racism to our front door and realize how little has really changed in the church.
Yet that is what this book does. It keeps connecting the dots through the Great Awakening, Antebellum, Civil War, Jim Crow, Civil Rights era, turn of the century and on to today with a look at the varied responses to Black Lives Matter and Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Here is one example of how The Color of Compromise brings historical complicity home to the present day.
The idea that the church’s realm is confined to spiritual and ecclesiastical things (like individual salvation or church organization) as opposed to physical or societal things (like slavery or social justice) might be rooted in the early church’s struggle with heretical gnosticism. At any rate, the tendency to think this way was demonstrated in the above example of the Virginia General Assembly.
So it’s no surprise, then, that leading up to the Civil War, an influential southern theologian, James Henley Thornwell, would crystalize this sentiment into a doctrine of the “Spirituality of the Church”.
Tisby explains how this doctrine allowed pro-slavery Christians to sleep at night and kept others silent on the issue. Tisby doesn’t stop there, though. He connects the dots to how this doctrine is still selectively applied today for ignoring racism (e.g. “That’s not a gospel issue”), but is conveniently forgotten for other social, ethical and political issues (e.g. legalized abortion) where the church suddenly springs to action quite visibly.
By chapter 10, the historical survey is complete. The footnotes throughout are more than sufficient for us to do our own further research. Tisby could’ve stopped there, but he doesn’t.
He dedicates the final chapter to presenting solutions and suggestions for the church to break the pattern of complicity. These selective ideas are not exhaustive, but enough to encourage readers to action; to move against the current of racism, instead of continuing to go with the flow of racism by remaining still.
That is why this book makes such a huge impact. The Color of Compromise isn’t about shaming and blaming white Christians. Jemar Tisby presents the church’s racist history and present reality from a place of deep love for the church and desire to fight for true biblical unity and racial solidarity.
If the twenty-first century is to be different from the previous four centuries, then the American church must exercise even more creativity and effort in breaking down racial barriers than it took to erect them in the first place.”Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
I believe The Color of Compromise will help us move beyond asking “Is there a problem?” and get on with the business of “Let’s fix this problem.” Any church community, whether or not it is currently racially diverse, can benefit by learning from our collective history.
The church can learn to be a credible witness in the midst of injustice and oppression. The church can learn to lead the way in love and unity, showing the world the power of the gospel to reconcile us to one another as well as to God.
I believe The Color of Compromise is an essential resource to that end.
There can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise
It’s time to listen to and tell and retell the truth.
BUY THE BOOK:
LISTEN TO THE FIRST CHAPTER FREE:
Click here to open iTunes and listen to Jemar Tisby narrate the first chapter of The Color of Compromise. You will appreciate the gracious and loving way he introduces his book without diminishing the urgency of the church’s current situation.
Better will not be
Not for them
if not by me
will not all sacrifice
will not all open their eyes
Pushing my hopes into their future dreams
is just passing the stuck of our present reality
naming better evolves naturally
claiming hate fades as life cycles
is not any relief
I must show mine
how to blend action and belief
Must summon all that I already am
to cultivate all that they already are
but can’t harvest yet
I must make better
not just for them
but with them
so that by them
better we’ll be
WHEN YOU BLEED, I BLEED
From the Fall of 2017
I came to church today
When that great song played
Muscle memory signaled: Stand!
A heavy soul overruled that command
All around me, voices rose
Peripheral faces replaced by elbows
Joyous amens rang through the stands
Cheering, dancing, lifted hands
I sat thinking, “If I at least sing
Maybe no one will think anything”
I lengthened my torso, gulped in some air
But my throat seized up, silenced me there
Oh God, I thought. What will they think?
Here and there, a side-eye blink
Just join in, don’t make a scene
My body resisting, heart caught between
Is this not the place to bring all of me
To bear my soul? Well, technically
If you’re Sunday nice, if no one’s to blame
If doing so doesn’t ruin the game
Oh hell, I can’t stop it, I can not ignore
This chronic infection, eating my core
It’s always been there, probably from birth
This hateful attack on my life and self worth
The great song continues, claiming I’m free
But I’m restless yet still, surrounded yet lonely
I shouldn’t just sit here but I also can’t leave
So, while all around stand proud and agreed
I slip to the floor, I kneel down, I cry
Hot bitter tears, I start out with Why?
Then pray Truth will sustain me, expose all the lies
That the love of the cross will open our eyes
For a moment I did not know or care
How I looked, how they saw me there
But then I woke up, I began to witness
Uncomfortable shuffling, murmurs, hisses
A friend nearby bent over and questioned
“Why are you kneeling? How could you lessen
The win of the cross? This symbol, this token,
We stand for right now or God is heartbroken!
Men died for your freedom to worship, you know.
Don’t forget the great debt that you owe.”
I looked up, confused. What should I say?
I looked up and noticed them moving away
My row was now empty, I felt paralyzed
Hearing my family and I being criticized
“She hates our church! She’s such a distraction.”
“You dishonor our faith with your selfish action.”
“Our martyrs and preachers deserve more regard.”
“They’re making it up. They’re life’s not been that hard.”
“She’s so divisive. Excommunicate!”
“I’m disgusted by you. You ingrate.”
All around me, their voices rose
Unfriendly faces, threatening blows
With everyone standing, proud and agreed
The minister stepped in, taking the lead
“If you want our blessings, you cannot show
Disrespect for our cross. Find somewhere else to go.”
I looked to the cross. It stood under a flag.
All our righteousness, just a filthy rag.
Did I really come to church today?
I then saw a stranger coming my way
This outsider got close, leaned down and questioned
“What can I do? How I can lessen
The soul-crushing pain you’re trying to hold?”
The people now silenced by an action so bold
As he slipped to the ground, taking a knee
“You’re not alone anymore. When you bleed, I bleed.”
NOTES: I wrote this feeling disoriented by an outrage I couldn’t understand. I had once failed to stand for a patriotic song during a worship service and the backlash shocked me. How would Christ would respond to kneeling athletes? To what are we pledging our allegiance, exactly? At what cost? These are thoughts that webbed in my heart and then spilled out.