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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Baby steps against scapegoating disaster

The world has really taken a hit this year.

Already reeling from the man-made disasters of terrorism on the one hand and a crisis of refugees and immigrants on the other, it seems that now there are natural disasters taking their cue from the mess that we've made with our own ungrateful, violent hands. Terrible floods following cyclones in Bangladesh, an earthquake in Mexico, hurricanes leveling islands in the Caribbean and destroying lives, homes, and food supplies in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi here at home, and dozens if not hundreds of wildfires wreaking havoc from central Canada south and westward through Montana and into California, all of these have people in helpless awe before the unforgiving and random acts of nature.

The natural human response to this kind of thing has always been to assign blame, create a scapegoat, then kill, either ritually or decisively, the supposed offender, or at least ostracize and neutralize them. One needn't look any further than the book of Jonah in the scriptures to see a well-known example of this. The storm in the story was, the sailors piously surmised, caused by God's wrath against someone or something on board their boat. To save themselves, they ascertained the culprit by drawing lots, asked forgiveness for their own sins, including, if necessary, the death of Jonah, and promptly threw Jonah overboard. It must have worked—the storm abated.

Of course, the scapegoat mechanism in the story of Jonah was nothing but a contrivance to move the plot along and help the runaway prophet get vomited onto the shores of Babylon. (You have to admire the biblical geography that allows Jonah to be spit up on a shore and told to make for Nineveh. That would be a hell of a long walk.) But it works in a classical way, and as far as the story is concerned, successfully. In our day, though, you don't have to go too far back in American history to find hurricanes and flooding and other natural disasters blamed on God's wrath against whomever is the easiest and most vulnerable target of majority fear and hatred: Muslims, gay marriage, abortion, and LGBT rights in general have been the favorites in this century. While the mainstream Christian right has been more circumspect this time around than with, say, the Sandy Hook shootings and Katrina, probably because their man is in the White House, nevertheless several conservative Christian bloggers (for instance, here) (here) (and here) were quick to assign blame to Houston's being punished by God for their previous mayor, who happened to be a gay woman.

As a Christian myself, what I want to say is that Jesus put an end to scapegoating by showing it to be a lie about God. He went to the darkest place human beings can go, suffering humiliating public capital death as an innocent victim of a violent empire whose god, Caesar, demanded obedience. When arrested, Jesus forbade violent resistance on the part of his disciples. In his trial before Pilate, in John's story,  Jesus said that there would be no violent response from his subjects, because his kingdom "is not like those of your world." Caesar's surrogate, Pilate, had Jesus killed as an enemy of the Pax Romana, and enemy of Caesar, and a pretender to Caesar's authority and title. But by rising from the dead, without any vengeful language or retributive justice upon his killers or even those who abandoned him and did not take his part, Jesus the forgiving victim put an end to blood sacrifice of behalf of God. God doesn't want it. God goes to the side of the injured, the lied-about, the marginalized, and walks with them. Jesus calls them "blessed," even, which ought to lead us to reevaluate what we mean when we say that we are blessed.

The human response to suffering, then, should not be to assign blame in our fear and ignorance, but to take the side of the injured, homeless, hungry, disenfranchised, and expatriated and do what we can to see that everyone has enough, that everyone has what they need to have life, freedom, and opportunity for happiness. That's where I want to be. I can just imagine Jesus hearing gossipy interpretations of a disaster in Galilee among his disciples that day when he spoke out to them: "Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4) There may have been a political edge to what he said, of course: the context was a violent action by Pilate against some Jews. But Jesus, putting aside Pilate's well-known blood lust, turns their attention to the apparently random collapse of a tower to lay aside any thoughts of God being one who punishes people randomly with injury and death.

So I'm going to put this little article to bed with a request to you who read it and are already so generous to the hungry, homeless, and stateless people of the world. A number of us from the various churches in Barrington are taking part this weekend in the Crop Hunger Walk sponsored through Church World Service. We're trying to take the side of those in need on this weekend in October, and be part of God's plan to change the world through awareness of our connection to one another, and solidarity with all of God's children. My choir members, along with many others from St. Anne, will be walking and raising money for this cause. If you can, please take part by supporting us by clicking here and then clicking on the "DONATE" tab to the right of the page, across from my beaming visage.

Anyone who has sinned knows that God doesn't punish us for our bad behavior, but over and over again forgives us and offers us life, just as we receive life from those who forgive us and help us get past of failures and betrayals. Let's not be a part of the strategies of "The Great Divider" by setting ourselves up as judge on God's behalf. Instead, let's be part of the solution, and strategize and enact methods of change, inclusion, resettlement, uplift, nurture, and dialogue. We're doing it this week through Crop Hunger Walk; next week, it will be some other way. Let's be the change, in whatever ways, big or small, we can imagine. Thank you!

 Crop Walk donor click here