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.
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.