Job 06 – The Myth of Hard Work and Success

It’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.

Then Job replied:

“If only my anguish could be weighed
    and all my misery be placed on the scales!
It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas—
    no wonder my words have been impetuous.
The arrows of the Almighty are in me,
    my spirit drinks in their poison;
    God’s terrors are marshaled against me.
Does a wild donkey bray when it has grass,
    or an ox bellow when it has fodder?
Is tasteless food eaten without salt,
    or is there flavor in the sap of the mallow[a]?
I refuse to touch it;
    such food makes me ill.

“Oh, that I might have my request,
    that God would grant what I hope for,
that God would be willing to crush me,
    to let loose his hand and cut off my life!
10 Then I would still have this consolation—
    my joy in unrelenting pain—
    that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.

11 “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?
    What prospects, that I should be patient?
12 Do I have the strength of stone?
    Is my flesh bronze?
13 Do I have any power to help myself,
    now that success has been driven from me?

14 “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend
    forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
    as the streams that overflow
16 when darkened by thawing ice
    and swollen with melting snow,
17 but that stop flowing in the dry season,
    and in the heat vanish from their channels.
18 Caravans turn aside from their routes;
    they go off into the wasteland and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema look for water,
    the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.
20 They are distressed, because they had been confident;
    they arrive there, only to be disappointed.
21 Now you too have proved to be of no help;
    you see something dreadful and are afraid.
22 Have I ever said, ‘Give something on my behalf,
    pay a ransom for me from your wealth,
23 deliver me from the hand of the enemy,
    rescue me from the clutches of the ruthless’?

24 “Teach me, and I will be quiet;
    show me where I have been wrong.
25 How painful are honest words!
    But what do your arguments prove?
26 Do you mean to correct what I say,
    and treat my desperate words as wind?
27 You would even cast lots for the fatherless
    and barter away your friend.

28 “But now be so kind as to look at me.
    Would I lie to your face?
29 Relent, do not be unjust;
    reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.[b]
30 Is there any wickedness on my lips?
    Can my mouth not discern malice?

Job is speaking for all the downtrodden here: all the blamed victims, all the casualties of an unfair economic system, anyone ever harmed by institutionalized racism.

I remember watching a news story on homelessness years ago, and a woman said, “it’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you don’t have any boots.” Her words came to mind when I read v. 13: “Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?” It is comforting to believe that we are in charge of our destinies, that if we just work a little harder, put the hours in, do the extra assignment, that we will be successful.  If that is true, then yes, we are all masters of our own fate.  But sadly, that is not true.

Before anyone rolls their eyes at my whining, let me just tell you a bit about how much I do believe in hard work.  I am up and writing this blog by 5:30 am to fit it into my day.  I have a whole series of pictures of me you can see (and a whole bunch of undocumented moments!) I call #farmingwhilemomming where I’m literally working two jobs at once.  Before Betty was one, I was the one who sifted through the mountains of paper work to get the farm a USDA microloan.  I am out there, working a little harder, putting the hours in, doing the extra assignment.  (So is my hubs, by the way: as I write this it is currently 5:57 am and he is up checking emails before he goes out to do farm chores)  I don’t say this to brag, I say this to silence anyone who might be tempted to brush off my argument with a “just have to work harder” type of response.

We work hard, and have seen success for it, but Chris and I face unique challenges as a black man and as a woman.  Chris talks a lot about his experiences elsewhere, so I’m going to mainly talk about my experiences here. Being in the predominantly male occupation of farming, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told I’m pretty smart “for a lady,” or been mansplained something I already know, or had someone be surprised that I can drive stick/park a 350/lift a bag of feed.  I educate myself about everything from how a freezer works to engine anatomy because I’m very suspicious that the service I might get is going to be different or less than a man because, as a woman, people expect I won’t know better.  That sounds cynical, and it is.  Fortunately we’ve met some very nice people since moving here and I trust my regular mechanics – but it took time to get there, and there are definitely services I’ve walked away from because I felt they looked down on me.

If you don’t see how this might effect my success, if you are still tempted to say “well, everyone has to be careful about who they trust their car care to,” or “you should be proud that you prove them wrong,” let me spell it out.  Lesser service, or, conversely, more service than I need because someone thinks they can up-sell an unsuspecting woman, costs me time and money, which hurts my bottom line.  And those same people who are surprised that I can drive stick or feel the need to talk down to me?  That’s the definition of a microaggression. Again, I can just hear the eyes rolling, and I’ll admit I haven’t found any studies on sexist microaggressions, but a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine did find that people who experience a high level of racial microaggressions (aka, the kind Chris has to face on a daily basis) age faster on a cellular level.  I wouldn’t be surprised if sexist microaggressions have the same effect.  So not only is institutionalized sexism and racism potentially hurting our business, it is also actually hurting our health.

And all of my ranting is coming from an able-bodied, cis-gendered, white, upper-middle-class individual.  Stop for a minute and try to layer on a few more other labels, if you will, and think about the challenges I might face if I were, say, a gay black woman? Or a disabled poor person? Or a dark-skinned Muslim immigrant? Can you begin to see how society might be stacked against me?  Job is right in calling out his friends in their calling out of him.  “Do I have the strength of stone? Is my flesh bronze?” Job asks in v. 12.  Here’s another quick aside for you: there’s even a documented racial bias in pain treatment, with people of color receiving less pain management than their white counterparts.  Is their flesh made of bronze? Is theirs the strength of stone?  Sometimes society seems to think so.

Job accuses his friends in v. 27 with the words, “you would even cast lots for the fatherless.” I think I’ve mentioned this before, but widows and orphans were the most disadvantaged people (except maybe lepers?) in society back then.  They were without any protector, any safety net.  Tell me, can you see any parallels between Job’s friends and the “haves” in today’s society?  The wealthiest 1% continue to receive tax cuts at the expense of schools, medical research, and especially social support programs like SNAP. We, as a society, are taking people’s boots away, then asking them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  Is this what God would want? Is this what Jesus would stand for?  Job has the right, as he says, to bray like a wild donkey and bellow like an ox without fodder – for his sustenance is gone.  We, too, have that right.  If you are in a position of privilege, lend your voice to those that are not.  If you are not in a position of privilege, speak up (if it is safe to do so).  We have a long, long way to go.  But journeys are made one step at a time.  If we have God to guide us and each other to lean on, we can make it. Together, we can make it.

Genesis 22 – A Response to the UMC General Conference

Keep the faith.

 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lordcalled out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

20 Some time later Abraham was told, “Milkah is also a mother; she has borne sons to your brother Nahor: 21 Uz the firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel (the father of Aram), 22 Kesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph and Bethuel.” 23 Bethuel became the father of Rebekah. Milkah bore these eight sons to Abraham’s brother Nahor. 24 His concubine, whose name was Reumah, also had sons: Tebah, Gaham, Tahash and Maakah.

I love the concentric story telling of the Bible, like a water drop rippling outwards in a pond, providing us a visual focus for meditation. I love how stories foreshadow other stories and narrative and theological themes emerge and merge.  This is a great – maybe even the best – example of this.  Obedience and willing surrender to God have already been established as tenets of good Faith, and that is what this story is all about.  It also foreshadows Christ: Isaac, Abraham’s only son (by Sarah at least), carries the wood for his own funeral pyre up the mountain to be sacrificed, much like Jesus, God’s only son, carries his own cross up the hill to be sacrificed. And once again we see if we trust in God, His mercy and goodness prevail.

I do want to point out the timing of this test Abraham underwent.  He is well over 100 years old now.  In my post on chapter 17 I discussed how perhaps there was a reason God waited until Abraham was 99 to establish the covenant of circumcision: basically, he was mellowed out enough to accept it.  Since then, God has literally appeared to Abraham and basically had a dinner party with him, Abraham has watched the wrath of God wipe two cities from the face of the Earth, seen his 90 year old wife miraculously give birth to Isaac, and God spoke to him once more regarding Hagar and Ishmael.  I’m not trying to make light of God’s request of Abraham, I’m sure he had at least some trepidation, but I also want to point out that Abraham, by this point, must have been as secure in his faith as humanly possible.  I say this to encourage everyone who may feel weak right now, and like they could never be as faithful as Abraham is.  Don’t worry, God isn’t asking you to be. Of course He wants you to be faithful and good and dedicated to Him, but He also isn’t asking us all to go around sacrificing our kids, right?  Working on trust is a good enough place to start.  When we’re ready, he’ll lead us to higher callings.

Which brings me to the UMC General Conference vote last week.  First, let me summarize: the United Methodist Church (like many denominations) is actively wrestling with issues pertaining to sexuality.  The General Conference that happened last week was convened to vote upon plans addressing these concerns.  Delegates representing UMC congregations from all over the world, in a surprise move, voted to stick with the Traditional Plan, which reinforced it’s commitment AGAINST ordaining LGBTQ clergy and NOT performing same-sex marriages.  (Most, including me, thought they would go with the One Church Plan, which allowed for individual congregations to make up their mind over whether they would accept a gay minister or perform same-sex marriage.) Most of the news reports made it sound like half the congregations that make up the UMC will no longer be in the UMC by the time this is published.  In truth, there’s still a lot of road ahead: First, the judicial body of the UMC has to review the decision to make sure none of it violates the church’s constitution, and then, for those churches that may still want to leave, decisions have to be made about assets, as the UMC as a whole, instead of individual congregations, own the physical churches/grounds/etc.  So long story short, nothing is settled yet, but it was still a blow to progressives and the LGBTQ community.

Dear friends, it is tempted to be discouraged by this. But it simply means we have more work to do.  Please, do not lose faith.  I understand if you want to leave the United Methodist Church, but I hope you don’t turn your back on Jesus.  There are lots of moderate and progressive UMC congregations that disagree with this decision.  There are also lots of open and affirming churches of other denominations, too.  If you are searching for one, I suggest trying out an Episcopal, Lutheran or United Church of Christ to see if those feel more like home.  Personally, I will still be attending my UMC church.  I think work needs to be done from within, and, I’ll be honest, even with this issue still in limbo it is the best fit for me and my family in our community.

But again, please do not lose faith.  What Christianity, and the world, needs now is more examples of faithful allies, not less.  If we can provide a loving and united voice in favor of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters (and non-binary siblings!), I believe we will win.  We will make the world a better place, where people’s humanity isn’t question, where people’s love for one another isn’t questioned, and where more people feel welcomed in the church.  And isn’t sharing the good news of Jesus one of Christianity’s major goals?  That everyone can come to know Christ and also God’s infinite love for us?  Like Abraham, God will work through us when we are fully ready, we just need to keep practicing our faith.

***

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent.  I’ll be opening Lent by contemplating Psalm 38, and then spend the rest of Lent upon the first 18 chapters of Job, if I counted correctly.

Genesis 10 – Creating a Legacy of Good

We are the most important characters to our own story, but that story doesn’t end with us.

This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.

The sons of Japheth:

Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshek and Tiras.

The sons of Gomer:

Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.

The sons of Javan:

Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittites and the Rodanites. (From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)

The sons of Ham:

Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.

The sons of Cush:

Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteka.

The sons of Raamah:

Sheba and Dedan.

Cush was the father of Nimrod, who became a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; that is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Uruk, Akkad and Kalneh, in Shinar.]11 From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12 and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city.

13 Egypt was the father of

the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, 14 Pathrusites, Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.

15 Canaan was the father of

Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16 Jebusites, Amorites,Girgashites, 17 Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18 Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.

Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19 and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and then toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, as far as Lasha.

20 These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

21 Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.

22 The sons of Shem:

Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.

23 The sons of Aram:

Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek.

24 Arphaxad was the father of Shelah,

and Shelah the father of Eber.

25 Two sons were born to Eber:

One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.

26 Joktan was the father of

Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah,28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.

30 The region where they lived stretched from Mesha toward Sephar, in the eastern hill country.

31 These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

32 These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

Look at all these people that spread out from Noah and his sons.  The whole of the Mediterranean world is listed here: Egyptians;  Philistines; the “bad” lands of Sodom and Gomorrah and the “good” lands of Ophir; maritime peoples that went even further abroad than any of their cousins.  I used to think of  these genealogies as just names to be skimmed over, of no interest except to a handful of dusty scholars.  But if you think about it, this lineage is truly awe-inspiring.  God blessed Noah, and his descendants filled the land.

I’m reading a book right now, Original Blessing by Matthew Fox, and in it he warns of the dangers of a religion that is too introspective.  If we focus upon ourselves too much, even if it is in self-reflection and self-study, we lose touch with the whole of the wonderful cosmos that our God has made.  We are too busy contemplating our own soul, missing it’s connection to our world and our fellow man.  We become blind to beauty and injustices alike.  We can see the importance of connection and bigger pictures here, in this chapter: Noah is pivotal to the story, but he’s just the beginning.  His three sons were fruitful and multiplied, and then those sons multiplied, and the ripple effect went on and on.  I think we need to remember that about ourselves, too.  Of course we’re going to be the most important character in our own stories, but we need to also remember that the story continues without us.  We don’t just end, but send our own ripple effects out past our limited reach.  It’s important to remember the fuller picture.

I am still angry about the Nathan Phillips/Covington Catholic Schoolboys incident as I write this.  I keep hearing people say “wait for the fuller picture,” or “there are two sides to every story,” or “Russia is using our outrage to erode our democracy.”  I am in a very privileged position of knowing some of the people involved.  Chris has met Mr. Phillips; I first saw the raw video of this confrontation on my newsfeed taken by a person I know who was actually there.  So I believe them when they say it was ugly. What I think people have lost sight of is the basic storyline: A teenager disrespected an elder.  Let’s make it even more basic than that: A human being disrespected another human being.  And I won’t be gas-lighted into believing otherwise.

When people say “wait for the fuller picture,” etc, etc, I think they have already lost sight of the fuller picture.  Put yourself in front of that smirking child and Lord of the Flies crowd backing him up.  Put your wife there, your daughter.  Now how do you feel about it? I certainly wouldn’t want to be in Mr. Phillip’s position there. I am not condoning violence upon this boy or his peers, no sane person is.  What I, and others like me, want, is for them to realize they were in the wrong, apologize, and more than anything, grow from it.  I want this child to grow from it. We all make mistakes, but if no lesson is learned, we – both individually and as a larger society – gain nothing.

What ripple effects can you start today?  We may not be destined to fill the Earth with our grandchildren, but we can fill the Earth with our good works.  Make an effort to reach out beyond yourself today.  Drop some canned goods off at your local food bank.  Ask your child’s teacher if there is anything they are lacking this second semester – can you buy it for them?  Call your representative on behalf of furloughed federal employees and contractors (thank you!).  Don’t stand by silently if something makes you uncomfortable, stand up for those being wronged.  Creating larger waves of good is the only way we are going to smooth over the ripple effects of negative behavior.  So today I challenge you to look beyond yourself.  What will be your legacy?