Little House / Wounded Knee: Week 4, The Good, the Bad, and the Evil

In the fourth week of Little House/Wounded Knee, freed blacks have to wait a lot and we see the best and worst of white settler behavior. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

[content note: graphic description of violence – not for children.]

“I Thought My Soul Would Rise & Fly”

i thought my soul would rise and flyThis fictional diary, based on a one-line description of a real person and other historical documents of the time, tells the story of “Patsy, a Freed Girl” right after the end of the Civil War in 1865. I found myself a little bored reading this one, probably because the main concern of most of the book was waiting. The things Patsy and the other newly freed blacks waited for were actually pretty interesting, though.

  • They waited to see if they were still emancipated now that their emancipator, President Lincoln, was dead.
  • They waited for news of their loved ones who had been sold away from them, or they waited for a chance to leave themselves. (Side note: It was cool to see how black churches came to function as community centers for support, information, education, etc.)
  • They waited for the right to vote (and women had to wait till the 1900s).
  • They waited for a white teacher to come establish the school they were promised in exchange for continuing to work their plantation. (She never came, because no one would house her.)
  • They waited for the plots of land they were promised. (Instead, most land was returned to former slaveholders.)
  • Patsy waited to see if it was still illegal for her to read and write.

Overall, it was educational to learn about how long and confusing the emancipation process was for many of these black folks. They had been forbidden to learn to read or write, they had little access to information, and they were constantly being fed misinformation by their white former owners, so it’s not that surprising that it took a while for slavery to actually be done. Not to mention that once the white plantation owners went to Washington D.C. and took their oaths of allegiance they pretty much regained their former influence, which they used to codify new restrictions on free blacks (see the “Black Codes”).

Basically, the Reconstruction Era was chaotic because of all the migration and massive socio-political upheaval caused by literally reorganizing an entire society all at once. Some blacks were able to band together and purchase land through associations (as the folks in this diary do in the epilogue), but many were roped into the “new slavery” of sharecropping and never really got a chance to stand on their own two feet.

“War Comes to the Cheyennes” & “Powder River Invasion”

In Chapter 4 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Brown relates the story of Black Kettle and the Cheyennes, who worked hard to maintain peace with white folks, even sending a few chiefs (Black Kettle included) to meet with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington D.C. Black Kettle received from Lincoln a medal, papers, and a huge American flag, which he flew constantly and insisted would protect his tribe from being mistaken for non-peaceable Indians.

Despite this proactive diplomacy, and despite having several other local white advocates (I was happy to find a few finally, goodness!), the Cheyennes were still told to camp close to Fort Lyon to ensure that they stayed peaceable. This relatively neighborly arrangement continued under the sympathetic Major Wynkoop, until complaints from less Indian-friendly officials that he was “letting the Indians run the place” resulted in his being relieved of command. He was replaced by one Major Anthony who, along with his commanding officer Colonel Chivington, was bent on “collecting scalps” and “wading in gore” (Chivington’s words). They kept up a peaceful front with the Cheyennes and neighboring Arapahos until they had time to amass their troops. When some of Anthony’s officers objected that an attack on the Cheyennes would violate the peace treaty and “would be murder in every sense of the word”, Colonel Chivington replied, “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians!” (p. 86) (Did I mention that Chivington was also an ordained Methodist minister?)

The ensuing Sand Creek Massacre was horrific. Due to the sense of safety from Major Wynkoop’s friendship and Major Anthony’s facade of peace, the Cheyenne camp was almost totally unguarded. A witness in the camp later remembered this scene:

…in the camps themselves all was confusion and noise — men, women, and children rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at sight of the troops; men running back into the lodges for their arms. … I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole, with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops opened fire from two sides of the camp. (p. 88, emphasis added)

The soldiers in this slaughter were particularly brutal, killing most of the 100-200 people and scalping and mutilating the bodies. One soldier graphically described the carnage: “In going over the battleground the next day I did not see a body of man, woman, or child but was scalped, and in many instances their bodies were mutilated in the most horrible manner — men, women, and children’s privates cut out, &c. …to the best of my knowledge and belief these atrocities that were committed were with the knowledge of J. M. Chivington, and I do not know of his taking any measures to prevent them” (p. 90). Brown notes that “in a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, even infants. ‘Nits make lice!’ he declared” (p. 90), thereby adding his name to a (sadly) long list of those who have justified extermination and genocide by comparing people to pests.

To me, this chapter illustrates both the best and worst of white-Indian relations. On the one hand, Major Wynkoop and many other soldiers lived in peace and perhaps even friendship with the Cheyenne. They knew and respected honorable behavior when they saw it, and spoke up even when their own people violated that honor. On the other hand, Colonel Chivington is clearly a man sick with hate and racism and violence, orchestrating and gleefully executing the slaughter and mutilation of hundreds of blatantly innocent people. If only, I keep thinking, if only the U.S. Government had listened to the Major Wynkoops and worked toward peace and stability instead of privileging the Colonel Chivingtons and participating in deceit, murder, and evil.

Unfortunately for Chivington’s goals of wiping out the Cheyennes, many of the tribe had been off hunting. The Indians he had slaughtered and desecrated were, in fact, the least threatening — over two-thirds women and children. The remainder of the Cheyenne split — a disheartened Black Kettle (who somehow survived) and several hundred followers headed south to join the Southern Arapahos, while the rest headed north to the seemingly impenetrable stronghold of the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux in the Powder River area to mass for a revenge attack. The Northern group defeated an outpost of soldiers and retreated to Powder River, hoping they would now be able to keep the whites at bay. (More on that later.)

Meanwhile, down south of the Arkansas River, Black Kettle and his band of Cheyennes joined with Little Raven and the Arapahos who had also been driven off of their land. Since the new territory of Colorado could be proved through previous (broken) treaties to stand on Cheyenne and Arapaho land, government representatives organized a council meeting to sign a new treaty. When Black Kettle and Little Raven argued that it would be difficult for their peoples to leave their homelands and fallen loved ones behind, they received this reply:

We all fully realize that it is hard for any people to leave their homes and graves of their ancestors, but, unfortunately for you, gold has been discovered in your country, and a crowd of white people have gone there to live, and a great many of these people are the worst enemies of the Indians…. Under the circumstances, there is, in the opinion of the commission, no part of the former country large enough where you can live in peace. (p.100, emphasis added)

What is so evident here is the instant privilege given to anyone who is white over and above anyone who is Indian, and the proprietary sense of manifest destiny. “Since we white folks have discovered gold,” it seems to say, “naturally we have a right to your land and will do nothing to prevent current and future whites from crossing your borders and taking your land.” Any white desire for Indian land is assumed and normalized — and granted — and the Cheyenne/Arapaho desire to maintain their land “just to be near their fallen ancestors” is not worth preserving in the face of such potential monetary gain. This whole statement is heavy with self-righteous inevitability.

Left with no other options to secure peace, the leaders of the remaining Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed the new treaty in October of 1865, agreeing to “perpetual peace” and totally relinquishing all claims to their former homeland in exchange for a tiny reservation in Kansas.

Chapter 5 of Wounded Knee is short; it details the ever-hardening resolve of both the white settlers and the federated Dakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho to entertain no other option than killing each other. We also meet our first Indian “mercenaries” in the Pawnees, who were old tribal enemies of the Dakotas, Cheyennes, and Arapahos and hired themselves out to the soldiers at Fort Connor. The aforementioned Connor (a general who named the fort after himself) took a band of soldiers and went out to “hunt like wolves” any Indians he could find. They destroyed a peaceful Arapaho village before being stopped and held in place by the Dakota/Cheyenne/Arapaho federation, who harried their supply trains to keep them starving and demoralized. The chapter ends at this uneasy stand-still, with the Indian alliance temporarily keeping the soldiers at bay but knowing they cannot match the firepower of Civil War arms and howitzers. We’ll read more about these tribes, I’m assuming, in Chapter 6, “Red Cloud’s War.”

The Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne: Where are they now?

Since there are many tribes in these and later chapters, I’ll try to break them up a bit and do a few at a time.

After the Southern Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes were given a small reservation in Kansas, the land was not to their liking, so their reservation was relocated to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma. However, in 1907 the federal government dissolved all formal Indian reservations land ownership in order to allow Oklahoma to be admitted to the Union as a state. Today the state of Oklahoma has reinstituted tribal sovereignty, but in a non-land-owning way. Instead, it recognizes “tribal jurisdiction” of various sectors designated as “Oklahoma Tribal Statistical Analysis (OTSA) areas“. You can see a map of the former Indian reservations below.

Former Indian Reservations in Oklahoma

 

Today, the Southern Arapahos and Southern Cheyennes live together in the combined Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe in western Oklahoma. Of over 12,000 enrolled tribal members, over 8,000 live in Oklahoma. In 2006, the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe worked with Southwestern Oklahoma State University to found the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal College. You can learn more about the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribe here.

Conclusion

This week, the common theme is how far some people will go to defend the privileges granted to them by their entrenched beliefs and power structures. To me, Chivington is the epitome of evil in the book so far — his actions turn my stomach and makes me want to shrink away. But even though it really disgusts me how evil humans can be, I also believe it’s important for us to keep reading and knowing and sharing true stories, because that’s what happened. And even though it’s hard sometimes to admit “yes, my government endorsed deception and thievery and massacre and mutilation, and I still benefit from it today,” it is still true. I feel like the very least I can do is to tell the truth as best I can.

Tune in next week for Wounded Knee Chapter 6 and (finally) Farmer Boy (Little House #3).

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Little House/Wounded Knee: Week 2, Broken Promises

In the second week of Little House/Wounded Knee, the Navajos win the award for “Least Unfortunate Western Indian Nation” and a former slave shares her powerful life story. Sound interesting? Then let’s get started!

“The Long Walk of the Navahos”

This chapter follows the Navajos (aka Navahos) of the southwest, particularly one of their leaders, known as Manuelito. After reading last week’s overview of the myriad promises made and broken by the U.S. Government and its officials, I could more fully appreciate the irony of this start to Chapter 2:

Manuelito and other Navaho leaders made treaties with the Americans. “Then the soldiers built the fort here,” Manuelito remembered, “and gave us an agent who advised us to behave well. He told us to live peaceably with the whites; to keep our promises. They wrote down the promises, so that we would always remember them.” (p.14, emphasis added)

There is some SERIOUS hypocrisy going on here, especially considering that by this time (1860-ish) the “permanent Indian frontier” had already been totally run over by Minnesota becoming a state in 1858. Seems like the U.S. Government are the ones in need of some promise reminders.

Anyway, I found it interesting to read about the relationship between the Navahos and the “Mexicans” (presumably a mix of other indigenous folks and Spaniards) here. Brown notes, “For as long as anyone could remember, the Mexicans had been raiding Navahos to steal their young children and make slaves of them, and for as long as anyone could remember the Navahos had been retaliating with raids against the Mexicans” (p.14). This, while disturbing in its reference to child slavery, strikes me as at least a somewhat fair fight.

Extra reading from PBS confirms that when faced with a large group of Spaniards the Navahos had a rough time of it. I didn’t realize that the Navajo and other southwestern tribes would have had to deal with twice the colonizers — first the Spanish, who colonized Mexico, and then the U.S.ians, who took New Mexico and surrounding area from the Mexicans. So by the time we see Manuelito and his band in this snapshot, they’ve already been dealing with Spaniards and raiding Mexicans for livestock for a good couple centuries.

The Navajos and other southwestern tribes really got caught between the two polities. Brown notes that once the Americans “came to Santa Fe and called the country New Mexico, they protected the [former] Mexicans because they had become American citizens. The Navahos were not citizens because they were Indians, and when they raided the Mexicans, soldiers would come rushing into the Navaho country to punish them as outlaws” (p.14, emphasis added).  So already there’s this weird half-acknowledgement of Indian sovereignty. They’re separate enough that we’ll treat them like foreigners, but not foreigners whose laws or customs or boundaries we respect at all.

The rest of the chapter goes on to detail broken promise after broken promise and random massacre after random massacre. (Incidentally, Brown also discusses the origins of “scalping”, which was popularized when “Spanish, French, Dutch, and English colonists made the custom popular by offering bounties for scalps of their respective enemies” [p.25].) Eventually nearly all the Navajos are starved off their land and forced to walk to a tiny, barren reservation at Bosque Redondo.

Then, in 1868, after a long line of government investigators, General Sherman arrived at the reservation and reportedly said, “My children, I will send you back to your homes.” After all the Navajo leaders (including Manuelito) signed a new perpetual peace treaty with the U.S. Government, a new reservation was established on a part of the Navajos’ ancestral home land (although “much of their best pastureland was taken away for the white settlers” [p.36]).

What really got me here, other than the repeated sledgehammer of U.S. Government infidelity, was the following conclusion: “Bad as it was, the Navahos would come to know that they were the least unfortunate of all the western Indians” (p.36). What a sad honor! Pushed around, tricked, scalped, massacred, evicted, starved to death, imprisoned and in danger of death unless they have a “pass off the rez”, and finally “gifted” with a small percentage of their original homeland. And this is the “least unfortunate” group.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Harriet Jacobs
Harriet Jacobs

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is a non-fiction narrative of the life of Harriet Jacobs, who wrote under the pen name Linda Brent. (You can read more about the historical real people here.) The book was published in 1861, just as the Civil War was starting, so its impact was somewhat muted until it resurfaced later.

I’ve read this book before, but even so I was still struck by the simple power of Jacobs’ writing. It really just smacks you right between the eyes. Jacobs, or “Linda,” as the narrator names herself, endures the long struggle of slavery and we feel her pain over and over as she is continually taken advantage of and oppressed. As a piece of writing, her narrative did a really good job of showing both the institutional oppression and pain caused by slavery as a whole and the personal wounds inflicted on individual black people by individual white (and black) people.

A big way Jacobs shows the injustice and unfairness of slavery and discrimination is through juxtaposition. For example, at the start of the book she describes her early life, being raised by a “kind mistress” who “had been almost like a mother” and “had promised [Jacobs’] dying mother that her children should never suffer for any thing.” However, when that mistress dies and her will is read, Jacobs learns that she has been bequeathed to her mistress’s five-year-old niece. So much for her promise to a dying slave woman! Jacobs delivers a simple but searing indictment of such “Christian” hypocrisy:

My mistress had taught me the precepts of God’s Word: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” But I was her slave, and I suppose she did not recognize me as her neighbor. (p.7)

And this from a “kind mistress.” Jacobs’ trials only worsen from there. Her new mistress’s father, “Dr. Flint”, takes control of her in his daughter’s name and begins a campaign to seduce her. She eloquently illustrates the Catch-22 in which she and many female slaves find themselves:

No pen can give an adequate description of the all-pervading corruption produced by slavery. The slave girl is reared in an atmosphere of licentiousness and fear. The lash and the foul talk of her master and his sons are her teachers. When she is fourteen or fifteen, her owner, or his sons, or the overseer, or perhaps all of them, begin to bribe her with presents. If these fail to accomplish their purpose, she is whipped or starved into submission to their will. She may have had religious principles inculcated by some pious mother or grandmother, or some good mistress; she may have a lover, whose good opinion and peace of mind are dear to her heart; or the profligate men who have power over her may be exceedingly odious to her. But resistance is hopeless. (p.32)

On a historical/cultural note, Jacobs also takes note of the difference in the treatment of owner/slave liaisons based on the gender of the owner:

I have myself seen the master of such a household whose head was bowed down in shame; for it was known in the neighborhood that his daughter had selected one of the meanest slaves on his plantation to be the father of his first grandchild. … In such cases the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen by any who know its history. But if the white parent is the -father-, instead of the mother, the offspring are unblushingly reared for the market. If they are girls, I have indicated plainly enough what will be their inevitable destiny. (p.33)

It’s pretty weird and contorted that, on top of this institutional racism and slavery and rape, there is also a strict double-standard that shames white women for the “sin” of sleeping with a black slave while giving total license to white men to do whatever they please. I’m not sure which is worse though — murdering your biracial children so no one knows about them or unabashedly selling them into slavery even though everybody knows about them.

Anyway, back to Jacobs. At first, embarrassed by her master’s filthy comments (she is, after all, only 14), Jacobs tries to ignore them. But as he invents crazier and crazier schemes to pursue her, eventually she realizes that one way or another he means to force her, so she decides to have a sexual affair with a (slightly friendlier… ish) white neighbor in hopes of retaining some control over her life and perhaps even driving Dr. Flint to sell her. This relationship results in the birth of her two children, “Benny” and “Ellen”.

The rest of the book goes through many notable, horrific details of the abuses suffered by Jacobs and her family members.

  • Dr. Flint leverages Jacobs’ children to try to control her, so she has her lover purchase them. He promises that he will free them…  but (surprise) he doesn’t.
  • In order to avoid being sent to work in the field (bad news), Jacobs arranges with her grandmother, “Aunt Martha”, to pretend that she’s run away north while actually hiding herself away in a tiny crawl space in her grandmother’s attic to avoid detection.
  • For seven years.
  • No, really — she hid in a space so small she couldn’t even sit up… FOR SEVEN. YEARS.
  • After seven years (yes, I said it again) in the crawl space, Jacobs escapes north by boat. She finds employment and can see her children for a while, but is continually worried that Dr. Flint will find her (because he keeps looking because he’s weirdly obsessed with her).
  • Shortly after she arrives in the North, the Fugitive Slave Law is passed, and Jacobs is terrified that she will be kidnapped or re-enslaved.
  • Against Jacobs’ wishes, her friend and employer, “Mrs. Bruce”, purchases Jacobs and presents her with the papers, thus securing Jacobs’ freedom.

Two things really stood out to me in the otherwise “happy-ish” conclusion to Jacobs’ story. First, although Jacobs finds greater freedom in the North, she notices many disturbing similarities that mirror the South:

(From a free black man) “…They don’t allow colored people to go in the first-class cars.” This was the first chill to my enthusiasm about the Free States. Colored people were allowed to ride in a filthy box, behind white people, at the south, but they were not required to pay for the privilege. It made me sad to find how the north aped the customs of slavery. (p.98, emphasis added)

Though blacks are systematically de-humanized in the established slave order of the south, in the north their “humanity” seems to get them lip-service “freedom” that “allows” them to pay for their second-class train car.

The second thing, and I think this is really important, is how conflicted Jacobs is over finally obtaining her freedom through being purchased. Her reaction to being sold is a writing masterpiece, so I’ll conclude with her words:

My brain reeled as I read these lines [news of her freedom]. A gentleman near me said, “It’s true; I have seen the bill of sale.” “The bill of sale!” Those words struck me like a blow. So I was -sold- at last! A human being being -sold- in the free city of New York! The bill of sale is on record, and future generations will learn from it that women were articles of traffic in New York, late in the nineteenth century of the Christian religion. It may hereafter prove a useful document to antiquaries, who are seeking to measure the progress of civilization in the United States. I well know the value of that bit of paper; but much as I love freedom, I do not like to look upon it. I am deeply grateful to the generous friend who procured it, but I despise the miscreant who demanded payment for what never rightfully belonged to him or his. (p.118)

You can feel the conflict here, many emotions — the outrage at the depravity and ridiculous hypocrisy of society, the choice to be grateful to her friend, and the pain and anger at having been treated like property.

And I didn’t even TALK about Grandma/Aunt Martha, the fantastically strong and faith-filled matriarch who spends her whole life trying to earn freedom for her children and grandchildren and literally dies not sure if she’s fully succeeded. Basically, you should really just read the book for yourself. It’s vivid, heartbreaking, insightful, totally honest, and a little bit hopeful — mostly cuz Jacobs is awesome and you’re really rooting for her by the end.

In conclusion…

In both of these narratives this week, the strong theme that comes through is the systematic, widespread, institutional infidelity towards and abuse of both Natives and Blacks by the U.S. Government and Americans in general. In both stories there is a kernel of hope — both the Navajos and Jacobs end up getting some measure of “freedom” — but it is a very compromised hope, a costly hope, bought with much pain.

Tune in next week for: Wounded Knee chapters 3 & 4, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Gettysburg Address.

The Light shines in the darkness…

Ugh. I feel so gross.

This morning there was yet another school shooting.

At an elementary school.

Mostly in a kindergarten classroom.

Apparently perpetrated by a 24-year old dude who had a thing against his mom, since he shot her and many of her 6-year-old students.

UGH.

This is SICKENING. How could anyone ever ever EVER get to a point where they think it’s a good idea to massacre kindergarteners???

Gross. Gross. Gross.

My soul feels all dirty and I just long so much for heaven, where children will run and never tire, laugh and never cry, and definitely not get shot just for showing up to school on the wrong day.

When tragedies like this happen, I always start to see the world as one big  juxtaposition. And at the time the horrific events occur, it always seems in my mind that the bad outweighs the good, and I say “quickly come, Lord Jesus!” with more longing than usual.

However, having gone through this several times now recently, I know that eventually the emotional overload will pass and this day will become just another horrible part of our nation’s history, and I will remember how people can be good again. And today, I was reminded of the goodness of people in advance.

This morning I met with my group of eight 9th graders. We meet every Friday as a part of their Christian high school’s discipleship program to spend time together, chat, laugh, pray and figure life out together. Today was the last meeting we have before Christmas Break, so some of the girls brought in treats and I had planned for us to have a little “Christmas story time” by watching Charlie Brown Christmas. So we sat down, grabbed some munchies, opened in prayer, and began our usual round-robin of updates.

This week, instead of our usual highs and lows, the girls wanted to share what they were doing for Christmas and in what I’m sure was a moment of Spirit-inspiration I added the question “What’s something that’s been on your heart lately?” I began by sharing my Christmas plans and then explaining how lately my heart has been worrying about future plans — what is my purpose in life? what am I put here to do? — but that God has been helping me learn to have peace even in the not-knowing. The girls nodded, and as we continued around the circle I found that there was quite a lot on our hearts recently. A best friend’s mother with an unknown illness. A grandmother with severe Alzheimer’s. A girl who had made some changes in her life and regained trust with her parents.

As we arrived at the last girl, she began with a deep breath and it became clear that something was weighing on her heavily indeed. “Well… things have been really tight financially in my family this year… my dad lost his job and we’re running out of money and my parents are really worried… they say we might only have one or two presents this year… and it’s hard because I don’t know if I should quit my sport… I just want to help, and I know it costs a lot…”

And then something amazing happened.

As Jessica (not her real name) poured out her worries, the others began to share their stories too. Stories of times when their parents were struggling financially, and when they didn’t know what to do.

Sensing a bit of the overwhelm, I said, “After all that I feel like I want to pray. Anybody else feel like they want to pray?” Silence. “Well let’s pray for a little bit and I’ll just leave some time and then I’ll close when we’re done.” I opened briefly and then just sat and listened.

“Lord, please be with Jessica and her family and help them to find more money so they don’t have to worry as much…”

“God, please help Jessica and her family through this hard time because we know that you don’t do this on purpose to be hard on them, but to teach them…”

“Father, give Jessica strength and comfort that you are there with her, and that you love her and her parents love her and that this isn’t her fault…”

By the end, Jessica was sniffling and my heart was bursting with love and appreciation for these wonderful, caring, supportive, strong, thoughtful humans. We didn’t even get to watch all of Charlie Brown — the bell rang literally 30 seconds before the Christmas story recitation scene (and the whole point of the movie)… but as I listened to Linus proclaim the story from Luke 2, I realized that we had seen the light of the Christ child anyway.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

Thoughts on Job and Eliphaz

Today’s Bible reading was NOT from Genesis, but from Job! (This is part of the reason I love reading the Bible chronologically — it totally makes sense that the story of Job is old, but I never thought about it!)

Anyway. Today I read the first five chapters of Job, and there is some SERIOUS food for thought in here. Here are a few of my thoughts (and questions):

  • As always, I am immensely curious about the brief mentions (in 1:6 and 2:1) given to the angels and Satan (who apparently tags along to the Weekly Angelic Council Meeting?? What???). I wish there was more in the Bible about all that angelic backstory… though I’m guessing the lack of information has given rise to many, many wonderful works of fiction. =)
  • Poor Job!! I mean, I remembered that Job really got pooped on (yes, that’s a literary term…) in this story, but MAN! I had forgotten that the four messengers LITERALLY arrive back-to-back, each successive one entering while the previous finishes speaking, to tell Job that “All your oxen/donkeys/sheep/camels/servants/CHILDREN are dead, and I am the only one who escaped to tell you!” OUCH!
  • Job impresses me.Like Atticus Finch. Even after his wife in her grief sort of “tempts” him to “curse God and die”, he simply replies, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” Wow.
  • And then, there’s Eliphaz. Oh, Eliphaz. This would be Job’s “friend”, the first of the three to give him “friendly advice” about how to deal with his situation. He’s pretty much a pompous arse. He basically sits with Job for a while and then says, “Well, since bad things are ALWAYS punishment from God, you must have done something wrong to deserve this. So just confess and accept God’s correction.” Wow. This is his word-for-word quote at the end of his speech: “We have examined this, and it is true. So hear it and apply it to yourself.” UGH. He’s so arrogant and assured of his own theology that he assumes he can instantly diagnose Job’s problems, tell him what God’s doing, and then lecture him on how he should get with the program when all his children were just murdered. Ick, ick, ick. I have probably done something like this when someone I knew was dealing with grief…. but I really hope I haven’t. And/or that I never do it again!

So, the moral of today’s story, children, is that you can’t use human theology to put God in a box, and you ESPECIALLY should not do this when someone is going through grief or hard times, because it only makes them feel worse. I am very much looking forward to the rest of Job. I don’t recall exactly what lovely rationales the other two friends use that are supposed to explain Job’s suffering for him. But I’m sure they will be instructive.

What are your thoughts?

Why, God? I just don’t get it!

Communion Thoughts for 7/22/12

As I was preparing for these communion thoughts, I couldn’t help but reflect back over the events of this week and wonder how we humans got to be so broken.

First, on Wednesday night we discovered that Pastor’s office had been broken into. Several pieces of computer equipment were taken, but it appears the focus of the thief was on stealing his personal things, including a Christian flag that was handmade by his first wife and lay over her casket at her funeral. This was a personal crime – and I simply don’t understand why anyone would ever do such a thing.

Second, an event that’s been making headlines this week occurred in Aurora, CO after midnight Thursday night. Shortly after the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises began, a gunman dressed in black announced that he was “the Joker”, threw a canister of teargas into the theater audience, and then opened fire at the crowd, seeming to select his victims at random. 12 were killed and 58 were injured, including several toddlers and children. This horrific, random crime makes no sense. Clearly he was not in his right mind – but I still just don’t understand how anyone could do such a thing.

Of course, these are not the only incomprehensible things going on in the world. Suicide bombers in Syria and Palestine, bomb plots against the Pentagon, school shootings, never-ending wars, and even some places where governments can no longer protect their citizens from the horrors of organized crime. Turn on your TV or read the news – it’s everywhere. But that doesn’t make me understand it any better.

Why do people do these awful things to each other? I just don’t understand!

There are no easy answers. The simple answer to why people do awful things is “sin”, but that only makes my logical brain happy, leaving my heart uneasy. Even the psalmist, even JESUS, asked “why”. WHY, God? Why do people do these things? Why is there such evil in the world?

And that is a question to which we may never know the answer. Certainly we can say “sin”, or “the Devil”… but these answers do not necessarily quench our thirst for understanding, nor do they ease our uneasy hearts. We just want to understand.

In fact, we humans LOVE understanding and “figuring things out” – perhaps explaining the success of mysteries and thrillers – we just LOVE uncovering all the details and the clues that lead to the perpetrator’s arrest and JUSTICE! Open And Shut Case – the bad guy gets what he deserves – end of story.

But real life isn’t like Law & Order. Often times there is no law or order – only chaos and confusion. Real life is messy. Sometimes we are confused, and sometimes we find no answers. We just don’t know.

But God does.

God knows. Our God, who created the heavens and the earth, who knew us before we were born, who’s so big he holds the world in his hand and so small he can live in my heart – my God knows. And we can trust that he’s on our side. The bible tells us, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31) Apparently a lot of people… but the point is that God wins. I still might not understand how – looking at all the mess here on this earth – but it doesn’t matter, because if God indeed has the victory, then there’s no way my finite understanding could ever affect that.

So when something incomprehensible happens, whether it be in your life or in the news, remember that it’s okay to not understand. It’s okay to be confused, because our job is not to have all the answers. That’s God’s job. Our job is to love God and love our neighbor as best we can – even when nothing else makes sense, and even when we don’t understand our world or God’s actions.

As you come to God today, and this week, and always, don’t be afraid – God is here, for you. Ask him your questions. Bring him your confusion and your pain. Struggle. He can take it. And he will always meet you where you are, because he is on your side.