Saturday, 31 October 2015

Letter to an Egyptian King (Exodus 1)

Dear Egyptian King,

You did not know Joseph. I wonder if this is because there had been a change of dynasty in your land or was this to do with the time which had elapsed since Joseph had been in Egypt and his story had not been handed down?

I ask because I would have thought the story of the great famine would have passed down and Joseph’s role in it would have been known.

Or was it as the Israelites became more powerful in Egypt there was a conscious writing out of him by those who resented the foreigner’s power?

Your brutality towards them seems to come from fear of a potential security risk. I find this interesting as our government seems to be becoming more fearful of the risks posed by part of the population who come from families who have emigrated here. This fear that they will join with our enemies is one which echoes down to today.

Thankfully we do not put people into forced labour in the same way, but I do worry how as your people allowed this policy to be implemented what role we in our country play in the shrewd oppression of groups judged to be dangerous.

When you decided to go for the killing of the boys to try and stop the growth of Hebrews in your nation I wonder if this was a common practice? To us it seems barbaric but to you it does not seem odd.

I am glad fear of God stopped the Hebrew midwives obeying your commands but I do wonder what happened to them for disobeying you. These women stood up for life and in doing so took a courageous step. I doubt to be honest if I could have done the same, yet I don’t think I could have done what you asked either.

As I read this story I am yet again struck by how different your culture was yet how the same fears are what underlie different actions throughout culture and time.

I have previously been somebody who has had far more time for the idea of social construction than social fact but I do wonder if the bible gives evidence that there are certain fears and emotions which are social facts and it is our reaction to them which is the social construction as well as who these fears relate to.

If this is the case do we, as Christians, need to acknowledge those fears more and identify ways in which they can be overcome? For example rather than simply saying “fear of the other taking over our country is wrong” do we need to ask deeper questions about where the fear of a particular group comes from and what can be done to deal with that fear in a way which is positive rather than negative?

This passage illustrates I think the need to understand our history and the history of immigration of certain groups and use that in our response. Part of your response came because you did not know Joseph. If this is means you did not know his story it shows how a lack of knowledge of history can impact our interpretation of the present.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

(Another) Letter to Joseph (Gen 49 &50)

Dear Joseph,

You were the favourite son from the moment you were born and the blessings your father dishes out reflect that. Their wording identifies what your father thought of all of you boys.

You had been estranged for so long and then found him again, but by then he was elderly and approaching death. How did that feel for you?

You are clearly moved by his death and make sure his wishes are met in terms of where he was to be buried.

I take it when the embalming is referred to it is the Egyptian form of mummification which we are today familiar with from the bodies found in the pyramids. Did you follow other customs we associate with that time such as burying specific items with him?

You were clearly touched by his death, which was marked by those from your adopted country too.

I wonder if other siblings felt relief that they could now move on as well as fear as to how you might act.

I think whilst most mourn the death of their parents the emotions are not as simple as we are often led to believe. Because in our society death is somewhat taboo we do not often discuss it and yet I think we need to.

Sometimes death can be kinder than life. I really worry that in our society we are so focused on life that we keep people alive too long when they have no quality of life.

I wonder how your own sons felt about your death. Was it your status that meant you knew you would have to be buried in Egypt but your heritage that meant you knew your bones should be moved when your ancestors moved out of the land?

You clearly were aware of your own mortality. Did that thought of death scare you or not?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Letter to Ephraim (Gen 48)

Dear Ephraim,

I wonder what it was like for you when you were taken in to see your grandad. We don’t know how old you were but that you were young enough to sit on his knee.

You were being taken in to see somebody ill and old and I am guessing the atmosphere would have been anxious. Were you scared by what was going on?

Then there was the blessing your brother was meant to get, in your dads eyes. I wonder if Jacob was remembering he was the younger son. There seems an important pattern in Genesis of showing that the eldest son is not necessarily the one who gets the blessing. This I increasingly realise as we go through is counter-cultural. That’s why Joseph got so upset, because Jacobs actions were going against what seemed to be the correct social order.

I think this is an important thing to take on board, that the “right choice” is not always God’s choice. I find this helpful because when I look at myself and my husband and I often think, “God have you made a mistake?” Why have you given me the calling you have and called my husband in the way you have? Do you not know who we are and the labels attached to us?

I know this is a note rather than a letter today, but I don’t want you to think this is not an important one. Your story has underlined to me something important.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Letter to the Ordinary Egyptian (Gen 46 & 47)

Dear Ordinary Egyptian

I write this letter to you, not knowing you but understanding you were impacted by the events we read of in these few chapters.

The account focuses on the migrants, Joseph and his family but I wonder what life was like for you at this time of famine. As I read through I am aware you were suffering real hardship and you would have seen your ruler providing wagons for these foreigners. I am sure the wagons would have been identifiable in some way as being provided by Pharaoh, who seemed to be doing very well out of your suffering and having to give him all you had for food.

It says 70 people came into Egypt with Jacob. I wonder what size settlements were then and what impact an extra 70 people (and I am thinking this number may not be exact but rather may be one of ritual significance) have in each area they stopped. Did they share their food with the local inhabitants or not and if not did this build up resentment?

I suspect they were not the only people to come into Egypt at this time of famine searching for some pasture or anything which might help them survive.

When they took the best land they were given did you or others get displaced? I wonder what you felt about this. I can see how the disruption caused may have caused social problems and perhaps the rise of racism.

When the famine was at its most severe how did you feel about Joseph and Pharaoh? It seems that the worst aspects of the market economy are at play here. When supply fails and demand is high the prices increase and in this case actually require you to become exploited whilst the richest in society get rich through this. In this case it shows how you become surfs as a result of this natural disaster and yet you show gratitude for this because you say it was enabled you to survive.

Did the fact that the Canaanites had been able to buy food too cause division between your peoples?
I can’t get my head around quite what it must have been like. Yet we see different echoes in our own society. Greece is a country which is suffering economic suffering, in a large part as a result of the debt repayment conditions being put on it by the EU but they are also having to deal with a migrant crisis.

In terms of the ethics of it all reading through it helps me to understand how racism and division might grow but also it underlines that those who should be targeted are not migrants but rather those exploiting these situations for profit.

I know I am supposed to see Joseph as a kind of hero in this over all tale but to be honest I see him as a man who used his power to exploit others. The fact that God seems to be putting him in this position and almost encouraging the exploitation is something I find really problematic. Yet, I do wonder if through these actions more of your people’s lives were saved than if the famine had taken hold without any planning.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Letter to Joseph (Gen 42-45)

Dear Joseph

I am interested in the encounter you had with your brothers when they came to get the grain. It seems that you would have made a good capitalist selling the supply of grain for a good profit to the desperate. The famine enabled you to do very well for yourself.

That is not to criticise you totally. You provided good leadership which was important. I do wonder though how, in that situation, the poor faired. With this shortage of supply in relation to demand was there some way of ensuring that people were cared for who couldn’t afford the grain?

I live in a society where there is a safety net, although it is being eroded because there are those who would argue that such a safety net causes dependency. This is something I disagree with to a large extent. I believe that what matters is how aid and support are given – it can be disempowering but it can be done in ways which enable life and participation. However, I digress from your story.

With regard to your brothers coming to buy food. How did you keep it together? I wonder if any of them suspected you but then dismissed it from their minds reckoning it to be impossible.

There is that bit when you pretend to need an interpreter but actually hear what they are saying. This is an interesting one which suggests you were a good actor. Did those who were interpreting for you know you could actually understand?

With regard to finding out news on your family, I can see why you quizzed them carefully.
I know why you did what you did not taking the money and so on but did you also take a little bit of pleasure messing with your brothers heads.

When you revealed yourself and your brothers were dismayed at your presence was it all out of fear out of what you would do or was there some of the previous jealousy going on? I ask because it wasn’t exactly the warm reunion you see on tv. I can imagine them looking at each other and then to the floor and a couple muttering “oh bother” or words to that effect under their breath.

You telling them to not be distressed sounds like a good way to deal with a very awkward situation. I also suspect that you understood that there were going to be very mixed reactions to you not being death. Is that why you told them not to quarrel on the way back. I wonder if that worked, after all for those who may have been jealous it could have been quite patronising and could have increased resentment against you.

In terms of what we can learn and apply now from your story. I’m not sure really beyond you never who you will bump into in the future in what circumstances and that should be taken into account in your interaction with others.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Constance - Review of the Film

This review of the Constance Coltman film was first posted yesterday on my review blog, but I think it fits with this blog too and so I am posting it here today, Sometimes when reviewing it is necessary to understand the constraints that the producer of a piece of art or product may be under. I think this is the case with Constance.

When watching this Kevin Snyman film I was disappointed at how short it was, expecting something much longer which covered more of the remarkable Constance Coltman’s life and work. Yet, I understand the film makers have done the best they can under difficult circumstances and it was a film I enjoyed.

Watching this URC supported film about the first woman to be ordained as a minister in an English mainstream religious denomination I was struck by the impact this woman had. However, the impact shown at the beginning was that she had upon the great and the good. I would have liked to have seen a condolence letter written by an “ordinary person”. Part of the reason for this is I had the privilege to hear talked of warmly by a now deceased member of her congregation, a man who had been ministered to by Constance and Claude in Wolverton (near Milton Keynes). Unfortunately there was no mention of her ministry there, even in the credits.

What this film did was show the strength of character it took for her to be accepted for training. Within this short film I find it most interesting what it says about call and how she had to show her call was beyond her gender yet God was also calling her in a significant way because of her being a woman in a situation which excluded women.

What I had not been aware of prior to watching it was her pacifism or her links to the suffrage movement, the latter of which of course would have been there but which I had never picked up upon previously.

I was caught between being pleased and frustrated that the hook for the film was her relationship with her husband Claude. Somehow turning this into a mini chick flick based around their love story seemed inappropriate for a feminist film, yet their relationship was pivotal to their ministry which was in many ways a joint ministry.

This is not a film about one woman though. It is a film which shows she had a prophetic voice and which is seeking to talk into our current situation.

I would therefore recommend you watch this film which is available to be shared on a not for profit basis under a Creative Commons licence and then share it. Constance’s story is one which should be shared and celebrated not forgotten.

Letter to the Cup Bearer (Gen 40 & 41)

Dear Cup Bearer,

I am writing to you, another biblical character who has an occupation but not a name. You are as so many others identified by your place in the class structure of the time.

My first question is what did you and the chief baker do which displeased Pharaoh? Was there some kind of food poisoning which he traced back to you two or was it you were somehow seen to not be following protocol enough?

What was your understanding of the significance of dreams? I know they are seen as really important by some people. Personally I have not had the type of dream which would need interpreting. It seems a key part of your culture though to have had dreams interpreted and for them to have meaning.

I am interested by the role Joseph played in prison. In the modern prison system we have people who act as listeners to other prisoners. That seems the nearest parallel we have to what Joseph was doing there. He was clearly sensitive to how other people were feeling around him which shows a sensitivity.

When he offered to interpret the dreams and gave you a positive interpretation how did you feel. Did you believe him or not? Then when the baker was given a negative interpretation what did you think? I do wonder what those three days were like where you were waiting to find out whether the interpretations were correct. I think that it must have been quite tense.

When you got out you forgot Joseph. I wonder if that was because you were suffering some king of PTSD and so blocked out that experience of the prison you had gone through or was it you were initially looking for an opportunity but that opportunity never came. That is something I think a lot of us suffer, including when we want to talk about Jesus and share him with others. It can be that we want to but never quite feel it is the right time. Was it you felt others would be embarrassed if you talked about that negative time in your life which others had responsibility for?

It seems when there was an emergency in the palace you remembered, but with some shame for not having mentioned Joseph earlier.

Were you given a slightly higher status in the court for having recommended Joseph or was there some kind of gift to you in recognition?

I could have asked so much more of you but I think that is enough, others can answer the other questions I have.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Letter to Potiphar's Wife (Gen 39)

Dear Mrs. Potiphar,

I write this letter with slight trepidation knowing I am about to go where angels fear to tread. You were a woman who made a false rape allegation and put an innocent man in jail as a result.

The behaviour of women such as yourself together with the attitudes of men who try to justify their actions mean that many genuine rape victims find it hard to be believed.

However, this passage suggests that you were so motivated by your own desires that you had little time to consider the impact of your actions on others.

Was the problem you had that this man, who was a slave was not giving you power over him? He was a foreigner who belonged to your husband and yet he rejected your advances.

You obviously found him sexually appealing on the basis of his appearance or was it due to more that? Did you also find his success appealing?

You seem to have had a desperation to sleep with him and I wonder if you had been a man, and him a woman, whether you would have raped him because you seem totally consumed by love. From the way it is described with him fleeing as you held his garment it appears that you had moved on from verbal sexual harassment of Joseph to physical sexual harassment.

When you are making the false allegations you bring his ethnicity in to it. Did that make it easier to make the allegation?

What were your feelings when Joseph was taken to the prison? Did you regret your actions or not? Were there others who had their suspicions about the truth of the matter?

I ask these questions because I find it difficult to understand your actions.

One of the things I am finding as I read these passages is how they relate to modern debates. The book of Genesis includes the stories of genuine rape victims as well as yours. In a world where the victims voice needs to be heard but each allegation needs to be fully examined this book explains why this is necessary by looking at both sides of the debate through different stories.
**for anybody who read this earlier overnight I don't know if I was hacked or if there was an unfortunate dyslexic/poor proof reading moment but I would like to clarify I have never made a false allegation of this kind.