1-4 One day Dinah, the daughter Leah had given Jacob, went to visit some of the women in that country. Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite who was chieftain there, saw her and raped her. Then he felt a strong attraction to Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, fell in love with her, and wooed her. Shechem went to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl for my wife.”
5-7 Jacob heard that Shechem had raped his daughter Dinah, but his sons were out in the fields with the livestock so he didn’t say anything until they got home. Hamor, Shechem’s father, went to Jacob to work out marriage arrangements. Meanwhile Jacob’s sons on their way back from the fields heard what had happened. They were outraged, explosive with anger. Shechem’s actions were intolerable in Israel and not to be put up with.
8-10 Hamor spoke with Jacob and his sons, “My son Shechem is head over heels in love with your daughter—give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us. Give your daughters to us and we’ll give our daughters to you. Live together with us as one family. Settle down among us and make yourselves at home. Prosper among us.”
11-12 Shechem then spoke for himself, addressing Dinah’s father and brothers: “Please, say yes. I’ll pay anything. Set the bridal price as high as you will—the sky’s the limit! Only give me this girl for my wife.”
13-17 Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father with cunning. They said, “This is impossible. We could never give our sister to a man who was uncircumcised. Why, we’d be disgraced. The only condition on which we can talk business is if all your men become circumcised like us. Then we will freely exchange daughters in marriage and make ourselves at home among you and become one big, happy family. But if this is not an acceptable condition, we will take our sister and leave.”
18 That seemed fair enough to Hamor and his son Shechem.
19 The young man was so smitten with Jacob’s daughter that he proceeded to do what had been asked. He was also the most admired son in his father’s family.
20-23 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the public square and spoke to the town council: “These men like us; they are our friends. Let them settle down here and make themselves at home; there’s plenty of room in the country for them. And, just think, we can even exchange our daughters in marriage. But these men will only accept our invitation to live with us and become one big family on one condition, that all our males become circumcised just as they themselves are. This is a very good deal for us—these people are very wealthy with great herds of livestock and we’re going to get our hands on it. So let’s do what they ask and have them settle down with us.”
24 Everyone who was anyone in the city agreed with Hamor and his son, Shechem; every male was circumcised.
25-29 Three days later, while all the men were still very sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each with his sword in hand, walked into the city as if they owned the place and murdered every man there. They also killed Hamor and his son Shechem, rescued Dinah from Shechem’s house, and left. When the rest of Jacob’s sons came on the scene of slaughter, they looted the entire city in retaliation. Flocks, herds, donkeys, belongings—everything, whether in the city or the fields—they took. And then they took all the wives and children captive and ransacked their homes for anything valuable.
30 Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among these Canaanites and Perizzites. If they decided to gang up on us and attack, as few as we are we wouldn’t stand a chance; they’d wipe me and my people right off the map.”
31 They said, “Nobody is going to treat our sister like a whore and get by with it.”
So last Sunday we broke open a biblical text we don’t often have occasion to hear, that of Rachel and Jacob as they flee an abusive living situation, one in which they were powerless to change, except through drastic and less than perfect means. I said that God, who first appears absent from that text of Genesis 31, was in fact present, active, waiting for us to tune into God’s rhythm and act on the opportunity to speak up, speak for, stand with the powerless. For that is what God does and that is what we are called to do.
And I said, it’s hard to look at these stories and tell them, they are ugly. They are fierce, but they are ours. And our responsibility. I said “if you thought this was hard, wait until next week.” I need to watch my mouth. I was so surprised when this completely relevant present day example came barreling through the internet on Monday morning.
Because what I did not know, and I suspect that you did not know either, last Sunday morning, was that on Saturday, August 9, in a city just north of St. Louis, an unarmed 18 year old black man was shot to death by a local police officer. His name was Michael Brown.
Last Sunday, while we were gathered in worship, citizens of Ferguson, Missouri were gathered in peaceful protest and mourning over the loss of another young African American man. It is another story where we must ask ourselves who has the power & who is powerless.
You may still be a person who has not heard of this story or perhaps you feel as though you don’t have enough information, you can’t tell “what’s news from what’s noise”, may I recommend a website that I have found highly valuable and rather all encompassing – vox.com (slide).
I know we don’t want to read Dinah’s story on Sunday morning, for there’s little to no good news. If we were going to act out this narrative as a play, who would you want to be? Answer: Nobody. This story is all systemic misogyny and patriarchy.
Reasons cited by scholars to help understand this text are dreadful. Dinah wore decorative jewelry. Shechem got confused. How many times have we heard some variation of that? Or she was going to a pagan ritual, he assumed she wanted to do it with him. It was implied. This text is also suggested to be a story the writers NEEDED to help explain how land gets divided in a later book of the Bible. She is but a literary pawn to make the Bible less confusing. No. Not ok.
Having conversations like those and calling it spiritual is a continuation of the pain of the story. Any conversation about what she wore, how she talked, where she was walking, clouds the reality of what happened and reduces the woman from a human being to a thing to be valued, objectified, controlled. By participating in, or allowing such commentary to shape our reading of the text we become unwilling perpetuators of that violence, rationalizing the use of violence, keeping us further from God’s desire for us.
All acts of violence reveal a deep disconnect to God and it’s a challenge for us to find something worshipful from such difficult stories, but these stories do not represent anomalies – extraordinary circumstances, in the past. These are present day realities. Everyday young women and men are victims of physical or sexual violence, everyday women are disrespected and violated in public, and #every28hours a black man is shot with his hands up – by a police officer, a security guard, or a self appointed vigilante like George Zimmerman. This month alone a black man was shot by police in a Wal-Mart for holding a toy gun, in the toy aisle, with his children present; a black man was shot in Los Angeles, while complying with police requests, while lying face down on the ground, with his hands behind his head; and this young man, Michael Brown, was killed while holding his hands high and saying, don’t shoot. image
I share now, from a moving article this week entitled America is not for Black People”, “Arguing whether Brown was a good kid or not is functionally arguing over whether he specifically deserved to die, a way of acknowledging that some black men ought to be executed…and to gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.” (Greg Howard’s “America is not for black people”, August 13, 2014, The Concourse).
Our faith tells us that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female and no black or white. So let’s not be distracted by those conversations – let’s turn to God, let’s value every life involved. Let’s take a deeep breath and let’s remember what has happened here:
A mother has lost her son. Fear controlled two men. That’s why you hear that Michael Brown ran from the police. He’s afraid he’s going to die and if your only chance to live is up to you, you’re gonna run. That is Rachel & Laban from last week. But the other man’s fear, the policeman, Darren Wilson’s fear, clouded his judgment beyond return. And he had a gun. He killed Michael Brown. Now, two families are now torn apart. A city is re-traumatized after years of systemic racism and the grief and fear that accompanies it. (protestors slides)
You can see the correlation to our Genesis text: Dinah’s trauma affects her entire family and they grieve. Hamor and his men are consumed with the desire for power, as are Levi & Simeon. It says Dinah is rescued by her brothers but to me all is broken. No one’s actions help Dinah heal or help anyone move on in peace.
Look to verse 30 where Jacob says “You have brought trouble on me”; the Hebrew more literally says “you have muddied what was clear” Think of Ferguson, Missouri. This text came alive for me when I read this in light of events in Ferguson –and around the country. Violence can never be a response tofear, to violence, to grief. It does not make anything right, it does not make anything clearer, it will not stop the pain, it will prolong the pain, it will increase fear, anger, loss. It’s unfair to ask people to put their anger aside – The anger and fear that everyone involved feels is real, comes from a real place and really needs to be addressed. I will acknowledge my anxiety and fear that I feel right now. Boat gone and got rocked.
But THESE ARE PEOPLE. In Missouri. My sister is in Missouri. Think about that. Think about the people in our community. Do you know a police officer by name? I do. More than 1. I’m thinking of 2 brothers in Eugene that have just become police officers and I can’t for one second think of either of them as someone I cannot trust or who would harm anyone in this city. (show slide of protester & police officer friends).
Anyone put into a position of power has the capability of abusing that power. I work with police officers here, every week and have never felt threatened or that they were dishonest or abused. But I heard teens of every color this week say they are afraid of Eugene police because of what they have seen. And that scares me. (tweet)
Think about any teenagers you know. First year College students or college Graduates. I attended the National Moment of Silence Vigil (show slide) on Thursday night at the UofO – I was there to grieve Michael Brown, I was there to listen for God because I did not know exactly where to start. So much brokenness. Listening to these students they shared their writings, dreams, prayers, we sang together – they will not give up though they know the world is not so interested in listening. This is a pain 400 years in the making.(howard slide) As they told me what they believed and hoped for I began to reconnect to God’s voice in my life. I cannot change the past, but I can tell its stories. I may not feel powerful today to change the future, but I have power by virtue of being a white person in America. It may not be my fault, exactly, that these events still occur today, but in these situations no one really wants to take responsibility. And so its time we all took responsibility. Our work is to build a better future by being present today. We gotta show up. How do we start (and for lots of you I realize it’s re-start) to do something?
We have to educate ourselves about power inequality in America today, learn to build relationships with others, learn to talk through difference, we need to learn about white privilege and acknowledge it, and use it to help someone without a voice be heard. (TWEET #ignored).
We have to practice moving through trauma and pain and into new life together. With God. This is God’s grief too.
From our General Church Ministry on Anti-Racism & Reconciliation, a blog post this week in light of the events in Ferguson: “We are called to pray for the Brown family, for Ferguson, for St. Louis and for our nation as we continue to search for understanding and reconciliation. We must also pray for ourselves, as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), to strengthen our resolve to be a pro-reconciling, anti-racist Church, to have the courage to face the
demons of our past with sincerity and to genuinely reflect on the reality of persistent racial inequality.”
But we can do more: We can go to these vigils. We can learn to listen to the stories in our city and in our congregation of the loss and harm that families of color have experienced. Even when those perspectives come from a place of anger or pain. Or when those perspectives are so far away from our own experience that we have to squint really hard to see them. Even when those perspectives challenge what we think of as reality. (image)
We can work for systemic change. We can go to our police departments and ask what sort of training they have to end racial profiling. We can work to educate our own church and community on racial profiling and violence against persons of color.
We could be proactive in creating encounters where police can meet the community and the community can meet police — not only in crucial moments when tensions are high — but also during normal times when the two can see the best of each other. We could find ways to make visible our values of love, equality and community wholeness for people of color, in the way we have become known for helping uplift the needs of the unhoused and unemployed, the way we stand out and vocalize the dignity and blessing of the lives of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
(TWEET: “We are not being asked to be political. We are being asked to be faithful.”)
Faithful to the message of hope and compassion. Faithful to the messages of equality and justice for all. Faithful to the path of healing reconciliation. Faithful to our God, who’s son was unjustly killed by those in power while the powerless wept at his feet. May the Spirit of God move through us and move us closer together, toward reconciliation, away from inequality and violence. May God take this moment for all of us and transform it into a movement for wholeness in this fragmented world.