Saturday, July 8, 2017

Short Creek, The Now, The Not Yet (and me)

Check out the Crazy Coupon Lady site.

(Warning: It's one of those Christian posts.)

I'm still procrastinating about writing up my official Mother's Day post, so in the meanwhile, I'll help to contribute tangibly by planting some ideas. As noted in previous posts, without condemning or condoning anyone, too many children are still in need of pragmatic help after more than 1000 people were evicted from their homes.

Amazon Prime?  Target? A Salvation Army Raid?

It is my opinion also that there are many sides to the debate, and the children in the families who are currently faithful to Fundamentalist Mormon beliefs have little to no voice in the political and religious debates. So before I make my pitch to give to the needy, I'd like to tell you why I'm braking tradition to talk about where to get good deals on shoes and school supplies.

A Gentle Gentile Response?

As a gentile who embraces Jesus but not Joseph Smith (as I am understood by these families), I think of the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think that most Christians think of all Samaritans as good people who take care of strangers, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The Samaritans absolutely despised and hated the Jews, and the Jews in Israel were prohibited from interacting with them. (They had absolutely no motive to interact with them, either.) People forget just how much they hated one another and why.

Where did the Samaritans Come From?

Some 900 years before Jesus told this parable to his very Jewish followers, Israel divided into a Northern and a Southern Kingdom. Basically, King David had many critics, and between his disturbed son Absalom, other tribes who were mad that the kingship passed from Saul's Tribe to David's, and high taxes that no one wanted to pay, they eventually managed to break free.  A good number of ten tribes separated and formed the Northern Kingdom taking up the larger share of people in what is now considered (by some to be) modern Palestine. They lasted there independently for about 200 years during which they warred against their brothers in the South.  They named Jereboam their first king, and since he was of the tribe of Ephraim, the Bible sometimes names the Kingdom of the North interchangeably with Israel or Ephraim.

Those Jews who were faithful to King David's line became the Southern Kingdom – the Kingdom of Judah (David's tribe and the tribe from which the Messiah, Jesus, was prophesied to be born.  Jerusalem (in the Southern Kingdom) had been designated as “Zion,” the chosen place and Mountain where God dwells – where Solomon built his Temple which stored the Ark of the Covenant.  

In addition to their own mass sibling rivalries turned into political wars, each of the Kingdoms were conquered by different nations.  The Northern Kingdom fared a bit better and eventually ended up dominated by the Assyrians who also hated those in Judah.  That didn't help the lack of love that the Northern Kingdom had for their brothers in the South, either -- Everyone north of Bethel basically hated Judah.  And the Kingdom of Judah ended up dispersed across the region between Egypt who came after them twice, and then many were taken very far away to Babylon.

The Sell-Out Sacrilegious Samaritans

So how were the Jews in the Northern Kingdom supposed to observe the Day of Atonement and the Passover before they Assyrians invaded?  They were creative.  Under Assyrian reign and over time, the Jews in the Northern Kingdom amended the writings of Moses to produce their own Samarian Pentateuch. They intermarried with their enemies. Isolated in the lands that we know today as the West Bank, “Samaritanism” (essentially a sect of Judaism) chose to declare and appropriate Mount Girazim as their new Mount Zion so that they could adhere to their new, modified version of Mosaic Law.

There was much more drama, but eventually Persia ended up dominating the whole region, even though it didn't actually rule countries there as their own nation.  Things basically calmed down (out of futility?) and the Athenians and Rome started to emerge as a stronger power.

Cindy's really bad map of Persia and the Divided Kingdoms
By the time that 445 BC rolls around, the Kingdom of Judah barely existed anymore.  Nehemiah (of the Southern Kingdom of Judah) was the cup-bearer for the King of Persia. He told the king that there was barely anything left of his native people and land, and the king gave him resources to begin rebuilding Jerusalem. Judah's exiles in Babylon were returned to Jerusalem to assist in the effort. Nehemiah then worked to repopulate the city, and with the prophet Ezra's help, reestablished faithful observance of Mosaic Law in Jerusalem's rebuilt Temple.

The Assyrians still hated the Persians and the Babylonians, and when Jerusalem was given back to the Southern Kingdom of Judah, though most of the exiles from Judah returned, a far lesser number of those other tribes came back home to the original Zion.  And after years of observing their Samaritanism, many did not wish to abandon their own Zion on Mount Girazim. 

The Samaritans could not have had more cause to hate the Southern Kingdom as they rebuilt Jerusalem and the second Temple. Those Jews who joined sides with the Assyrians who had fought them for ages sold out to convenience by altering the Holy Word of God.  The idea that Jewish ethnicity and their nation-state was still directly tied to their religious identity as those who were set apart for God alone, so those who failed to returned to the land that Abraham gave to them sold their birthrights. For the re-established Israel the Samaritans had not just wed their own enemies in war x2 but God's enemies in terms of those who were holy and set apart for and by God through the Law. In many ways, this was an unthinkable and reprehensible act to the Jews who remained faithful to the Kingdom of Judah.  Their Samaritan half-brothers corrupted their holy faith, and even more hate abounded.  For every reason imaginable, Samaritans were not to interact with Jews who had no desire to interact with them.

Jesus and Samaritans

It is by no mistake that the woman at the well whom Jesus meets is there in the heat of the day, so late in the afternoon. She's not only the wife of five husbands, but the lateness of the hour tells of how despised she was as a Samaritan. In one of Hannah Hunard's books, she speaks about how so much of life in Israel surrounds the procurement and rationing of water and how difficult it was to go to the wells in afternoon, linking this to the significance of this narrative.

The Samaritan woman could not go in the morning because the Jewish women there would have turned her away. In John, Chapter Four, the woman mentions to Jesus that her people worshipped at Girazim instead of Jerusalem. Jesus tells her that soon, it will not matter, for those who belong to God will soon have no need for a physical place to worship God (in the right way -- under the confines of the Law.).  All men who seek Him would soon be able to worship Him simply – in spirit and in truth.

But the worship of God in Jerusalem had also adapted, and the Pharisees and Saducees emerged in the South.  But notably in this example, Jesus blatantly violates the mores and religious traditions of His own day -- of the Samaritans and the Jews alike.  He shows loving kindness to a Samaritan, a serial adulteress who is scorned by other women, but just as a holy man, He has even more reason to keep Himself pure by refusing to speak to her.

At the risk of making an already too long post even longer, I take for granted that most people who read this will have some knowledge of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  But note, that in this context of history, he is a man who is supposed to hate Jews. In the Book of Luke, the Samaritans reject Jesus.  

Instead, Jesus shows a new path and a new way to live in His Kingdom of Heaven which is governed by the Law of Love. The enemy sees an individual man in pain --  who just so happens to be from the most hated of his nation's own and people's own enemies.  Instead of abandoning his worst enemy or putting him out of his misery, the Samaritan treats his arch enemy as a brother – as he would expect someone who loved him to treat him in his hour of great need. Jesus broke every rule that a faithful Jew and Samaritan observed in that day, which was beyond scandalous, yet we think of Samaritans as good people who help everyone. And we forget the twist on the story, for Jesus tells a story that makes a hero of those whom the Jews dehumanized after years of hatred and war.

Jesus shows us the solution to the problem of scapegoating and demoralizing others.  We should love them.  And he put his followers to shame with his Samaritan hero.

The Gentiles and the People of Short Creek

Today, the war still wages between the Nation of Israel and the people of the West Bank. Each has their idea of Zion. As I noted in the photographs in the Salt Lake City Tribune, I saw “Zion” written many places, above doorways and on objects left abandoned under force of law. I immediately thought of the religious and political battles that we face in the Middle East as brother wars against brother. There are so many parallels between those in Short Creek and those who see the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Temple Mound in Jerusalem as their promised Zion – as well as the different factions of people who also seek a better City, a place to worship God where their lives are set apart to worship as they see fit. And many see things so much differently.

I may be wrong, but to put myself in the worn thin shoes of a faithful follower of the Fundamentalist Mormon sect, I think that the best analogy that I can make is that they are Israel and their homes and community in Short Creek was their Zion. I keep thinking of that part of the Twelve Step Program that says bids people to turn their lives over to God as that person understands God. (I know that this phrase is strongly criticized by some Christians, but I figure that you've got to start somewhere. For people who are theists, I think that it works well if they keep their lives and focus in perspective.)

We all begin somewhere, and I know that in my own life, my understanding of God changes

and deepens, and I hope that it becomes more broad in truth and more narrow in the errors in my understanding. I am much like the woman at the well, having been to and fro, but faithful to the truth that I walked in at the time (for the most part). I walked in the light that I had. And as Jesus said, though not always through the wisest routes, I've sought after Him with all of my heart. I've done so by following prophets. I've fasted for weeks on end. I've done works of service. I've lived in periods of piety. I can't tell you how many times as an often sick child that I put my hand on my TV screen when Earnest Angley said to pray and put my hand on the screen “as a point of contact” for a miracle. I did as a young adult, too, every time that he was on TV and said to do it. But that's how I understood God, and I followed the faith that my mother gave to me. I know what it is to do so in earnest. God knows my heart and just how much I love him and why I did what I did.

The Challenge

And I may have the semantics and analogies wrong, but from the perspective of these Mormons, I imagine that they feel much akin to the people of Judah who returned to Jerusalem to help Nehemiah and to heed the admonishments of the Prophet Ezra. I suppose that the Mainstream Mormons who want everyone to forget all about the legacy of the past and beliefs and all of the practices followed by Joseph Smith are much like the Samaritans who followed Judaism to those who have been run out of Short Creek. And I am a foreigner with no ties to those who dwell in Zion from that vantage. I'm a woman of unclean lips half of the time, and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips, and many people like me have so many hard things to say about our differences in religion and politics.

But I step back from this, and I know that as this old Amy Grant song says, I am very much the now and the not yet. I'm no longer what I was, but I am not all that I will be. And I don't see that many differences between me, those true believing moms and children in Short Creek. By the kindness of many who have shown love to me when I did not deserve it, how could I treat those in need any differently than I have been. But for grace, there go I. Why was I born by a French and British mother into a then mediocre generally Protestant and nearly agnostic home in Pennsylvania and not by a mother named Jessop or Barlow in their Zion?

I suggest that all of us are no longer what we were before, but not all that we will be. And I believe as I know that so many of my Mormon would-be sisters and mothers in Short Creek what to do what is right and good before God – “as they understand him.” We walk in the light that we have. And while we do, I think Jesus made His strongest statements when He told his followers to love when it was hardest to do so, for that was the Law of His Kingdom. (A
t least as I understand it.)

So that's why the next couple of posts will be about helping those who are subject to what many describe as bounded choice – walking earnestly in the light that you have with all of the resources that you can muster, in the middle of the now and not yet. I don't condemn. I don't condone. I'm doing my best to love in a practical, tangible way, just as I have been. These who claim the heritage and name of the Children of Zion need good Samaritans -- their own brothers and sisters. 

If no modern day Samaritans will step up, I think that there are plenty of gentiles like me who can relate relate to what it is like to be like the man who was found along the roadside, broken and wounded with no ability or resources available to meet their own needs.  I think that those who help with the large and the small things like a pair of shoes or a pillow or a box of crayons like the Samaritan who cleansed the wounds of his would-be enemy and took him in as his own until he was able to care for himself.  These small things are the oil and wine of healing of many wounds.

In my idealism, it is my hope that in the end of all things, we all might come to be a part of what Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman.  The Apostle Paul wrote that the Spirit brings us together into the knowledge of the truth -- and we grow to understand God better and better.  May well all come to worship God in Spirit and in Truth.  If we don't do it hand in hand with my would-be sisters in Short Creek, I am happy to worship God by loving them by helping them.  And I can pray that those -- their families who war against them -- will also grow in their understanding of who God and in their knowledge of the truth -- whatever that turns out to be.

And I humbly apologize if this post seems sacrilegious, offensive, or heretical to anyone. This is my heart from my vantage having been through what seems like a host of lives and beliefs while at the same time really changing little of my love for God which as always been at the core of my understanding. I am not condemning. I am not condoning. To the best of my understanding, I'm following the Spirit and the Law of Love – as best as I understand things today. But I am not all that I will be.  And "I" need some shoes for my sisters.

(I also left out about 100 Bible and historical references. Those who are Biblically literate to whom I'm primarily addressing in this post will recognize them.  And we now have Google.)

The Now and the Not Yet
by Pam Mark Hall (performed by Amy Grant)

No longer what we were before,
But not all that we will be.
Tomorrow, when we lock the door,
On all our compromising,
When He appears,
He'll draw us near,
And we'll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory....

We will be like Him,
For we shall see Him,
As He is.

No longer what we saw before,
But not all that we will see.
Tomorrow, when we lock the door,
On all our disbelieving,
When He appears (holy, holy),
Our view will clear,
And we'll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory....

But I'm caught in between
The now and the not yet;
Sometimes it seems like
Forever and ever,
That I've been reaching to be
All that I am,
But I'm only a few steps nearer,
Yet I'm nearer....

No longer what we were before,
But not all that we will be.
Tomorrow, when we lock the door,
On all our disbelieving,
And He appears (holy, holy),
He'll draw us near,
And we'll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory....

When He appears (holy, holy),
He'll draw us near,
And we'll be changed by His glory,
Wrapped up in His glory....