Sunday, August 14, 2022

Unraveled: Unraveling Bias

Then Pharaoh gave an order to all his people: “Throw every baby boy born to the Hebrews into the Nile River, but you can let all the girls live.”

Now a man from Levi’s household married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She saw that the baby was healthy and beautiful, so she hid him for three months. When she couldn’t hide him any longer, she took a reed basket and sealed it up with black tar. She put the child in the basket and set the basket among the reeds at the riverbank. The baby’s older sister stood watch nearby to see what would happen to him.

Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe in the river, while her women servants walked along beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds, and she sent one of her servants to bring it to her. When she opened it, she saw the child. The boy was crying, and she felt sorry for him. She said, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children.”

Then the baby’s sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Would you like me to go and find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?”

Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, “Yes, do that.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I’ll pay you for your work.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. After the child had grown up, she brought him back to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I pulled him out of the water.” --Exodus 1:22, 2:1-10 (CEB)

Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit our Advocate and Sustainer. Amen.

Genocide. It’s the world into which baby Moses was born. This week I turned to Professor Google to learn more about how genocide is defined and what exactly it is. Unsurprisingly, one of the first links was to the U.S. Holocaust Museum website. On it, they define genocide as an act or series of acts designed to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. They arrange these acts into five categories: 1) killing members of a group; 2) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; 3) deliberately inflicting conditions of life on a group that are designed to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 4) imposing measures on a group that are intended to prevent births; and 5) forcibly transferring children of a group to another group.

So often, I think, we try to convince ourselves that we are so different from the people of the Hebrew scriptures. That we have advanced so much further. And, perhaps, we have. Yet, on a related website I found a list of places in our world this very moment where genocide is occurring or at risk of occurring. South Sudan. The Congo. The Uyghur people in China. Afghanistan. Indonesia. Yemen. 

And lest we think that we, here in this country are immune, I would like to acknowledge the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Adena, the Hopewell, the Myaamia, the Shawnee, the Cherokee and the Osage First Nations on which we are gathering and worshiping today.

Genocide. It’s the world that Moses was born into. A world where his life should have ended just as swiftly as it had begun. But, it didn’t. Thanks to a plot devised by Moses’ mother and his sister, whose name, Miriam, we would learn later in the story - thanks to their plot, Moses survived, one of who knows how many children didn’t. 

We have to wonder how detailed their plot was. Perhaps, it was simply to place him in the basket among the reeds, hopeful that Adonai would spare his life. Perhaps, their plan was more detailed, more opportunistic, even manipulative as someone suggested this week. Regardless of the complexity of their plan, the life of Moses, first-born son in his family, was spared because of it.

There are alot of things we could consider today under our summer-long theme of unraveling. The unraveling of Moses’ mother, of her hopes and dreams for her son. The unraveling in Miriam’s life, not subject to the genocide orders and how that may have impacted her. Or even the unraveling of the Pharaoh's daughter bias, conscious or unconscious, that she likely inherited for the Hebrew people.

But, today, I’d like to spend a moment looking at the actions of Pharaoh’s daughter that go directly to the unraveling of her own father’s plans of genocide. And, particularly, what it means to be an ally versus what it means to be “nice.”

I don’t know about you, but for my entire childhood I was constantly reminded to “be nice.” That idea is so deeply ingrained within me that I even talk to my two fighting cats, telling them to simply “be nice” to each other.

To be a nice person, as pagan spiritualist, Nadirah Adeye writes is to be “someone who doesn’t want to make others feel badly.” (One can find truth in the most interesting places!) She continues, “Being nice is about the personal choices we make regarding our friendships and relationships. A nice person, for example, likes to see diversity at gatherings, but may not understand that “diversity” is not just people of different complexions or lifestyles (but who all have similar assumed world views and behavior patterns). True diversity is, at times, grinding and intense and messy and loud and awkward.” We may say we want diversity, but do we really?

To be an ally, though, is very different. Anne Bishop, author of Becoming an Ally, defines it in this way: “Allies are people who recognize the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on. Part of becoming an ally is also recognizing one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of color, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.” 

To be an ally sometimes requires that we are not nice. It requires vulnerability. Risk on our part. It requires that we do the work to examine and question our own privilege. To understand who we are internally. And also how our external appearance or membership in a certain group might have an impact on our power in society. Being an ally means being willing to be uncomfortable. And trying again. Over and over. It’s less about being right than it is about being unwilling to allow wrongs to persist unchallenged. And to be willing to move toward the mess and discomfort rather than simply walk away.

Perhaps that’s why I’m so intrigued by the Pharaoh’s daughter. The unnamed Pharaoh’s daughter. Because, perhaps. Perhaps, just for a moment as she saw that Hebrew boy baby, she could connect with him. She could learn from the sexism she experienced in her own culture and use her own privilege to be an ally. To push back against her own father and against the systems of oppression he continued to perpetuate. To save a baby. To save Moses. Who God would eventually call to be an advocate - an ally - in his own right. To use the privilege he’d gained as a son of the Pharaoh’s daughter to help lead an oppressed people to freedom. 

Isn’t this the story of Jesus, too? Son of God come to earth to be an ally? To find every opportunity to push back against these same systems of oppression that continue to plague us today? To be vulnerable himself? To risk death so that all people - you and I included - might be fully free? Freed so that we might risk like Jesus? Called by God to carry on the work of unraveling and re-weaving, the mission of God to create a tapestry of diversity and beauty in our world? Yes.

For this, I say, Thanks be to God!

Preached August 14, 2022, at Grace & Glory, Prospect, with Third, Louisville.
Pentecost 10
Readings: Exodus 1:22, 2:1-10; Psalm 83:1-4, 9-10, 17-18

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