Saturday, October 27, 2012

Job's Daughters

Job’s Daughters
As the narrative winds down, (Job 42: 1-6, 10-17) Job is restored to a healthy life, his days of suffering are over, and we are told his fortunes are restored two-fold.  His life is truly blessed. The text then does a beautiful and unusual thing: alongside having seven sons, we are told he has three daughters. More than that, we are told the names of the daughters but not the sons. And even more than that, we learn that Job’s daughters, in addition to being the most beautiful in all the land, are granted an inheritance along with their brothers.

The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers (Job 42:14-15).

This is remarkable. Simply put, daughters were not given an inheritance. Daughters were given away in marriage for someone else to support. Whereas we would expect to be told the names of the sons, that is passed over to make sure we know who the daughters are – and that they are to be richly endowed.  This signals a seismic shift in cultural norms! Jemimah, Keziah and Kere-Happuch are granted complete independence, socially and economically! Before Job this had never been heard of. The Bible itself goes to great pains to spell out the rules of patrimony – inheritance – making sure we know that only the boys get the dough-re-mi.

Beautiful girls, the most beautiful in all the land of Uz, would have been easy to marry off. Job would have had no trouble lining up suitors for these three daughters. But instead Job chooses to empower them! This ancient text concludes with the empowerment of women.

So why has it taken so long? Why are women still not allowed equal rights with men throughout society and throughout the world? And please do not for a moment think that they simply need to stand up and claim these rights for themselves. We have seen what happens when they do.

Malala Yousufzai dares to blog and speak out for the basic right for girls to get an education, and a terrorist organization, the Taliban, attempts to assassinate her, shooting her point-blank in the head. By some miracle she is still alive and recovering. See Malala Yousufzai reunited with her family. Yet, the same terrorists announce that they will continue to target her if she returns to Pakistan.

Consider her father. After the Taliban has blown up every school in the Swat Valley, and made attacks on other girls who attempt to get an education, Malala’s father dares to operate a school for girls. He is Job. He is empowering his daughter and other young women in Pakistan. The question remains, Where are we? Why are we not all Job? Why are we not all mobilized to ensure that young women everywhere can be educated?

In time, Malala’s story will fade from the 24/7 News Cycle. The need for young women to be educated will still remain. The need for women to be empowered socially and economically will still remain. Education is perhaps the key component for women and children everywhere. Simple literacy -to be able to read, write, do basic math functions – can make the difference between a mother who cannot feed her children every day and a woman who can support a household and a family.

Yet, the Taliban represents just one barrier to women having access to education and all that an education can provide. That is, it is not just a case of women wanting and education and doing something about it for themselves. There are forces at work denying them the opportunity - forces that are willing to shoot a young woman in the head to intimidate any others from seeking an education. These forces are not just at work half-way around the world – there are those who are working hard to erode the rights of women right here in the U.S.A. Make no mistake about it, they will succeed if allowed to continue unchallenged.

The world is populated with “Job’s daughters.” “Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.”

The future of the world, the end of poverty, any shred of hope for a peaceful world, depends on what we do to advance the lives of women everywhere – at home and abroad. We must all become like Job – who after long and undeserved suffering at the hands of Satan emerges as one of the most enlightened men in all of human history. This story has been with us for over 2,500 years. We mostly twiddle around with it seeking answers to questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

We completely overlook the obvious. So much suffering can be alleviated if we as individuals and as a society would take action like Job does – empower women so that they might contribute to making the world a better place. All women deserve to be Job’s daughters. The rest of us all must become more like Job. Satan still freely walks to and fro across this earth. One person like Job, one girl like Malala Yousufzai, one person like her father, can make a difference. Each one of us can do the same. Nothing can be more important for the life of the world. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Where Are You?

Job Redux
“Where were you….”
Aside from readings from the book of Job being prescribed in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) this fall, I have been thinking a lot about Job. And how we get it wrong to assume it is all about us and “the problem of evil.”
There is a euphemism if there ever was one. “The problem of evil.” As if it can be solved like a quadratic equation. The book of Job opens with this exchange, “The Lord said to Satan,
“Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro
on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

And so evil is personified and recognized as “going to and fro upon the earth.” There are those who would make fun of such a personification. “Satan” is a silly, old-fashioned, no longer serviceable “idea” for those who cannot get with the modern (?), post-modern (?) gestalt and world view. How can evil be understood to be “walking up and down” on the earth?

Just ask Malala Yousufzai and her classmates in Pakistan’s Swat Valley where the Taliban had forbidden young women from getting an education. Malala, 14, had been blogging on a BBC website for several years as an advocate for education for girls. The Taliban had blown up all the schools in her region of the Swat Valley to prevent such a thing from happening. Malala and other girls were brave enough to start a new school, where they opened each day with the prescribed Muslim prayers. One day last week, Taliban gunmen stopped her school van on its way home from school and shot Malala in the head and neck. She is in intensive care after extensive surgery to remove the bullet lodged in her neck. And a few days later she was taken by air-ambulance, provided by the United Arab Emirates, to a hospital in Great Britain for continued care and therapy. The extent of her injuries remains uncertain. What is certain is that evil walked right up to her and shot her in the head.

As one who has recently dedicated my life’s work to educate young women I have come to believe that women will be and are the future of humanity. Evidently evil, Satan walking to and fro upon this earth, thinks so too. Why else would one identify as one’s greatest enemy a fourteen year-old girl? The Taliban must recognize that once women are educated it is game over. Why else would they take such direct and morally reprehensible action?  And spend the days following the incident not only accepting responsibility for the attack, but defending their actions with such outlandish allegations as, “She was really fifteen, and therefore no longer a child,” or that “She is an agent of a US governmental intelligence agency.” As if it is morally defensible to shoot a fifteen year-old girl.

Job is right – Satan is walking to and fro upon the earth, day after day after day after day. Go ahead and make fun of the concept of Satan all you want. Satan remains a perfectly serviceable construct to describe what happens every day. We all know what “Satan” means, whether as a metaphor, a personification, or simple reality. Call it what you will, evil walks this earth.

This story cuts awfully close to my heart and opens the big black hole in the belly of my soul even wider and deeper. I have the privilege of teaching girls from that part of the world every day – fourteen year-old girls from Afghanistan, Iran, China, Egypt and 15 other countries around the world, many of whom pursue an education at great risk to themselves and their families. I witness their courage to do so, and some, like Malala, to blog about it – to bear witness to what it means for girls like them to get an education so they might one day return to their respective countries and make a difference. Each one of them gives me hope – hope that one day we will, as a people, transcend the kinds of evil that walk to and fro upon this earth day after day after day.

The anti-religion crowd must be having a field day. See, they must be saying, this is why religion itself is inherently evil. This is why we must turn to some sort of secular humanism, or Randian Objectivism, or Science to lead us out of our moral depravity. As if some sort, any sort, of human centered moral compass can direct us beyond such unacceptable and barbaric behavior.

It cannot be denied that Religion can and does among certain adherents turn evil – see Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil. In this book, Kimball lists the Five Warning Signs to look for when religion becomes evil:
  • Absolute Truth Claims
  • Blind Obedience
  • Establishing the "Ideal" Time
  • The End Justifies Any Means
  • Declaring Holy War
Kimball is right – and every world religion has committed atrocities when allowed to be focused on these five dangerous areas. Does that mean that every religion deserves to be condemned? Should all men be condemned because of the actions of one Charles Manson, or one Adolf Hitler, or one Joseph Stalin?

One privilege of teaching young women every day is that I must be learning with them every day as well. I spend much of my time learning about the world’s great religious traditions. And what I have learned is that the Quran, that monument of Islamic revelation, categorically condemns such action as that perpetrated by the Taliban on the young women of the Swat Valley, and specifically against Malala. The Quran repeatedly states that even in time of battle, in time of war – which is always carefully delineated along the lines of Christian Just War Theory (whether or not this is an oxymoron will be left for another day) – that women and children are not to be harmed or held captive under any circumstances whatsoever. Only an uneducated public will accept as true any of the justifications from groups like the Taliban to justify their actions with any of the Prophet’s recitation (The Quran), or any of his recorded judgments on how to be a Muslim. The Taliban does not represent Islamic culture and beliefs any more than Adolf Hitler represented the pinnacle of Western European culture. The Taliban, despite all claims to the contrary, are nothing more than an armed, political insurgency – not a religious sect, and most certainly not “Islamic.”

Our temptation to condemn religion at moments like these is most often an attempt to absolve ourselves of responsibility to act or react. When we abstain from action, whether out of fear, out of moral paralysis, or some feigned assertion of “neutrality,” we allow evil to continue to walk to and fro. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said at the height of the fight against the evil of Apartheid, “If an elephant is about to step on a mouse, and you know it is happening, and you claim to be neutral or detached from the mouse’s problem, the mouse is not at all impressed with your neutrality.”

This week, finally, God answers Job out of the whirlwind in chapter 38. God asks, “Where were you…..” Where were you? That would be the question for all of us. Where are we? Do we allow ourselves to be manipulated into hating religion, or hating Islam, based upon the flimsiest assertions, bigotry, propaganda and misinformation? Do we allow ourselves to be neutralized by thinking that this problem or that problem of evil is too big for me to get involved and make a difference?

People, religious and non-religious people, allowed themselves to believe that slavery could not be ended because “the economy” depended upon it. And yet, one man, William Wilberforce in Great Britain, and one woman, Harriet Beecher Stowe in America, dared to get involved and made a difference. They refused to give into moral paralysis. They refused to sit on the sidelines. They jumped in with both feet no matter what the consequences. Ruby Nell Bridges dared to go to school in 1960 in the name of civil rights for African-Americans. And Malala Yousufzai dares to go to school and write about it for all to see in the Swat Valley so that young women like her can get an education and make a difference themselves.

God asks Job, “Where were you….” It is a question for all of us, for all of us are Job. All of us are Ruby Bridges. All of us are Malala Yousufzai. Some days it is hard to look out at the world and maintain any sense of Hope. And most days it is challenging to hear God ask, “Where were you….” But every day would be impoverished without God wanting to know.  It echoes the first question in the Garden when the man and the woman are hiding from God, and God cries out, “Where are you?” It is one of the most basic human needs to know that someone cares – that someone wants to know where we are. Satan is walking to and fro upon this earth. God and millions of others want to know, “Where are we?” The future of Hope and the future of humankind depend upon how we answer this most important question. Malala and her sisters worldwide need us to be with them right now. Amen.

Monday, October 8, 2012


There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. So begins the Book of Job. The Lord and Satan make a little bet: Satan believes that if he inflicts Job with unbearable sores that Job will curse the Lord. The Lord knows Job will remain faithful. Even Job’s wife is depicted as telling Job to curse God and die. Give up your integrity is what she actually says. Give it up and get it over with she seems to say.

It is a long standing assumption that the overriding question in this tale is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” This, in theological terms, is called Theodicy – the problem of suffering. It is also assumed that this is some sort of game on God’s part – toying around with Job, allowing Satan to have his way with him. The problem with these texts is that we get are all too easily convinced to accept the standard interpretations.

The Japanese Zen tradition has a word – Shoshin. It means “Beginner’s Mind.” In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.  Shoshin. We are too quick to accept the interpretations and determinations of the experts – the professionals. When we allow ourselves to encounter these texts as if for the first time we might find that the experts may have missed things we need to hear.

For instance, Job reiterates an essential Biblical bottom line – the sun shines on the good and the bad, the rain falls on the good and the bad. God has faith in Job. Job has faith in God. And Job remains faithful to his wife despite her insistence that he be done with the Lord and die.

His friends try to get him to give up on God. Satan gives it his best shot. Job’s only fault is that he believes he knows all there is to know about God. Yet, God does not give up on Job. God speaks out of the whirlwind to set the record straight – there is more to God than we can ever know, explain or pin down. God gives Job a lesson in Shoshin.

Could it be that the story is about holding on to our integrity in spite of all that comes our way – the good and the bad, the sunshine and the rain? For it turns out that no matter what happens, God cares about us. We matter. God is not toying with Job – God believes in Job. God is not toying with us – God believes in us.

We are the most special thing God has created – not the only special thing, but the most special thing. If we are to maintain our integrity, this revelation ought to be humbling. Where things go wrong is when we believe being created in the image of God entitles us to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.

The Greeks had a word for this – hubris. We are deep into the season of hubris – whether it is this particular political season, or whether it is this season of humankind. We spend lifetimes becoming experts, technicians, believing we can know it all. It has led to a growing culture of ego driven Narcissism. We isolate ourselves further and further from God, from each other and from ourselves because we feel we need to know it all. Such hubris prevents us from grasping any hint of what this story is about because all we can imagine is that is must be a story about us-or more specifically about me. That’s how the Bible is read these days – as some sort of self-help book about me and how I can be a better person, be more successful in business and have the best abs in town all at the same time.

Had we an ounce of Shoshin we might see. We might hear. We might get it. These stories, as helpful as they may be for me or for you are primarily about someone else. God.

At the end of the day this tale about a family man who is down on his luck is not about whether or not he has faith in God. That’s the mistake Satan makes.

The story of Job is the story of the Bible, is the story of Biblical faith – which says that no matter what, good or bad, rain or shine, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has faith in us.

God has faith in us. God has faith in human kind. God has faith that no matter what we all can be righteous people like Job, like Noah, like Paul, like…well yes, like Jesus. That can be the only reason way back in Genesis God created us in the image of God – male AND female he created us in the image of God’s own image.

God has faith in us. It is interesting to note that historically and anthropologically speaking, religion itself is not primarily about God. Religion is our attempt, often a lame one at that, to answer a few basic questions: Where are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, ought we be doing?

If there is a fatal flaw in religion and the religious life it may be summed up in these questions that mislead us into thinking it is all about us. God in Job, God in Jesus, God in Moses, God in Muhammad, says no. The only reason we might have faith at all is because God has faith in us.

That’s it. God has faith in us. And God has hope. God’s hope is that we might actually live our lives inspired, moved, motivated if you must, by the knowledge that God loves us AND has faith in us – faith that one day we might do the right thing in any given situation, rain or shine, good days and bad days.

And it is not about how we feel. It is about how God feels when we do – when we live up to God’s faith and hope and we become, despite our narcissistic selves, righteous people. God’s righteous people. What a beautiful world it will be. Shoshin!
The Reverend Kirk A Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD