“…chosen as partners, midwives of justice, birthing new systems, lighting new lights.”
From the song “God of the Bible,” Sing the Journey 27
This winter I’ve been a part of a Sunday school class studying the book of Exodus and its many intersections with the African American experience of slavery and freedom.
Exodus begins with the descendants of Jacob (a.k.a. children of Israel, a.k.a. Hebrews) in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh is threatened by their numeric growth and enslaves them. He also commands the Hebrew midwives to kill all boys born to Hebrew women. The midwives, named Shiphrah and Puah, refuse. They allow the Hebrew boys to live.
I can’t cite a source, but I remember reading that this is the oldest recorded story of civil disobedience (if there’s an older story I’d love to know about it). It did not take place in the streets or in the courts, but in the personal and intimate setting of childbirth. Pharaoh was defied by two women who chose to gently receive and honor new life rather than destroy it.
I don’t know if the lyric from “God of the Bible” – “midwives of justice” – was meant to reference this story, but whenever we sing it I think of Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus 1 – the matriarchs of resisting evil and celebrating life in its rich variety.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Pope Francis is calling for a fast from indifference: ““Indifference to our neighbor and to God represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
That last phrase, “trouble our conscience,” sounds a lot like our Lent worship theme, “Trouble the water.” This Lent we are acknowledging that many of us live in relatively calm waters, and it is an act of grace for God to trouble our waters. Specifically, we’ll be meditating on how race and privilege intertwine in our lives. These daily meditations from CMC folks are one of the ways we’ll be doing this. Lent kicks off our year of focusing on anti-racism, white privilege, and Black Lives Matter.
This Lent I’m personally choosing to fast from reading white authors. This has already led to an interesting conversation. On Saturday I was in Cincinnati at the Mennonite Arts Weekend and bought a new book from the delightful Mennonite poet Jeff Gundy. As Jeff was signing the book I told him I won’t be reading it until after Lent because of the fast. He had a couple good suggestions for possible Lent books including Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (check, read it over Christmas break, highly recommended) and Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist (her TED talk rocks).
I’m pretty sure I won’t be avoiding all white authors. I won’t be checking the racial category of every online article. And I’m not excluding white authors who write about race. But I do welcome looking through a different set of eyes affecting the way I see the world.
This Lent let’s fast from indifference. Let’s allow ourselves to be troubled, and in the process, to begin a healing process first within ourselves and then in our community. Let’s trust that Jesus walks with us, and let’s not assume we know what that looks like.