Category Archives: Church

Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (6)

This is the sixth and last in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Indigenous people: Presentations at the Cilac Freire school spoke about a a variety of social justice issues, with regular focus on the indigenous peoples of Mexico. The afternoon charla topics during the second week included “Mujeres y Religión,” “Situación Política de México,” and “Las CEB’s desde la Experiencia Laica.” There was also a talk on “Historia del Movimiento LGTBQ y Feminismo” but I felt ill that day and regretfully missed it. Several of the talks also discussed the indigenous Zapatistas of the southern state of Chiapas who since 1994 have fought against the Mexican state. There were a number of images of ski-masked figures in the school – a trademark of the Zapatistas who cover their faces to hide their identities. When I first saw the images, I wrongly thought they were wearing a kind of Muslim niqāb, covering their faces for religious reasons.


Zapatista posters – wearing masks

 
Indigenous political posters 2018

In one of the talks, I asked the speaker (who self-identified as Mestizo) what it meant to be indigenous. That is, was it a matter of biology or of customs and traditions (or something else)? She replied that it was biological and that even if an indigenous person moved off traditional lands into the city and married someone who was not indigenous, their children would still be indigenous. It felt like each person who spoke was proud of the indigenous people of Mexico and the fight to retain their traditions and land. In the recent election for the Mexican President, the independent indigenous candidate Marichuy (María de Jesús Patricio Martínez) from the National Indigenous Congress was widely respected even though she did not have enough signatures to be on the official ballot.

Before our excellent Spanish lessons and interesting talks or tours each day, our group from Berkeley, California, started the morning with reflection and prayer.  We also had some free afternoons to go shopping and walk around the city of Cuernavaca. All in all, it was an inspiring experience and I would like to return to CILAC Freire to continue improving my Spanish and learning more about social justice in Mexico.

Communities of Liberation Blog Series: The posts in this series are-

  1. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (1): About Blogging, Course Description, Celebrating 3 Kings, local homes, Cuernavaca, Museo de Arte Sacro, Tonantzin
  2. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (2): Immigration, Base Communities, Mexico and Morocco
  3. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (3): Customs and traditions, Virgin of Guadalupe, San Charbel Makhlouf of Lebanon, Iglesia del Río de la Plata and the LGBTQ community
  4. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (4): Don Sergio Méndez Arceo, Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo Juan Soriano, Coco, the Day of the Dead
  5. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (5): Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos Pellicer, Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico, Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia), Hate Speech, Rwandan genocide, Diego Rivera murals
  6. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (6): Indigenous people, Zapatistas, Marichuy and 2018 elections

 
Cilac Freire classroom talks and Spanish lessons

 

Shopping in Cuernavaca and Tepotzotlán

 
Cilac Freire closing party with cake biting and music

 
Cilac Freire graduation!


Heading home to California

Blog post updated 5 Feb 2019

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (5)

This is the fifth in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Our group visited a variety of museums in Cuernavaca, Tepotzotlán, and Mexico City (Ciudad de México). Although I have been to Mexico many times for both business and leisure, I never before visited any of these remarkable cities. There are a number of excellent collections of prehispanic artifacts, two of which we visited: the Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos Pellicer in Tepoztlán, and the Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico in Cuernavaca. We did not have time to see the large and famous National Museum of Anthropology (although I have seen some of its collection in other museums), so I plan to return to Mexico City to see that. (Another treasure of Ciudad de México I missed seeing is the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.) However, I was very happy at last to see the world famous Diego Rivera murals on the history of Mexico at the Palacio Nacional.

Museum of Memory and Tolerance: The most disturbing museum we visited was the Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia), Mexico City. It presents a wide variety of information about genocide, racism, LGBT bigotry, and other forms of intolerance, including extensive galleries about the Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide and other crimes against humanity. I grew up in a Jewish community in San Francisco that lost most of its senior members to the Holocaust, and I later worked with Holocaust survivors on a kibbutz in Israel, so touring these exhibits was painful.  In 2014, I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial with the TechWomen Delegation, which I wrote about in “Touring Kigali,” “Swords to Ploughshares, Rwanda” and other blog posts. The Kigali Genocide Memorial also offers exhibits on the topic of genocide around the world.

One of the most upsetting exhibits in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance was on Hate Speech (Discursos de Odio), featuring a wall-size display on President Trump speaking vitriol about Mexico. I felt nauseous and embarrassed at how America is seen now, and I wished that there were some way to say how deeply many Americans disagree with our President. The museum’s ending exhibits about more positive topics like Tolerance and Diversity seemed weaker and less effective than the horrors presented in the upper floors. The final room honors four great leaders with heroic statues and video biographies: Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, ending on a message of hope. There are busts of these four outside the museum as well.

 
Nursing mother and dog vessel, ceramic artifacts in Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos PellicerTepotzotlán, 2019

 
Iguana and starfish, ceramic artifacts in the Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico, Cuernavaca, 2019

 
Artifacts from the Holocaust: measurement tools to determine race, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Artifacts from the Holocaust: boxcar used to transport prisoners to concentration camps in Poland, and Walther P38 German pistol used by the Wehrmacht, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Exhibits on the Rwandan Genocide, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Never Again: flowers for a mass grave – honoring the dead on the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, Kigali, Rwanda, 2014

 
Machete, mass gravesite from the Rwandan Genocide, Rwanda, 2014


Lost Potential – In Memory of the Children Lost in the Genocides (El Potencial Perdido – En memoria de los niños perdidos en los genocidios), in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Racism and LGBT Bigotry, and Tolerance, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Hate Speech (Discursos de Odio) with a film of President Trump, big statues of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, in the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019


Busts of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Rev. Martin Luther King, in front of the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Mexico City, 2019

 
Diego Rivera murals, Cilac Freire group at the Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de Mexico, 2019

 
Diego Rivera murals, Palacio Nacional, Ciudad de Mexico, 2019

Blog post updated 5 Feb 2019

Photos Copyright 2014-2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (4)

This is the fourth in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Fundación Don Sergio Méndez Arceo: One of our visits in Cuernavaca was to the organization set up in 1995 to honor and remember Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo, locally called Don Sergio, the beloved but controversial Roman Catholic Bishop of Cuernavaca from 1953 to 1983. We learned of his life and work in the context of liberation theology to help the poor, indigenous people, and the environment. Don Sergio is known as the “patriarch of liberating solidarity.” The Fundación Don Sergio Méndez Arceo has given a major human rights award annually since 1993 to Mexican individuals and organizations meeting four criteria:

  1. Many years of work
  2. Help others to see needs
  3. Relevance to important problems in Mexico
  4. Vulnerability of the person and their work

The foundation’s prize has been awarded 26 times so far with the intention that the honorees become better known and also to give some protection by publicizing their work. We learned that Don Sergio’s work to promote the “preferential option for the poor” was as part of the Grupo de Obispos Amigos (GOA), in collaboration with Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador. A digital archive of Don Sergio’s papers is being made available by the University of Mexico City in the next year.


In addition to improving our Spanish, hearing lectures, and visiting social justice institutions, our group also toured a variety of museums, including the impressive modern Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo Juan Soriano. Unfortunately, the collection was closed but we were able to see an exhibit on art and technology and to walk through the extensive sculpture gardens featuring monumental bronzes by Juan Soriano.

The 2017 computer-animated Disney movie Coco was referenced in a variety of ways during this trip. We actually got to watch the film in Spanish during on our bus ride to Mexico City and while there, we saw performers in Coco costumes on the street. In the mountain town Tepotzotlán, there was a large wall mural featuring the black dog from Coco and saying “Nuestras raíces van más allá de Disney” (or “our roots go beyond Disney”).

 

The Day of the Dead context of Coco was reflected in many crafts and designs. However, the skulls at the base of 19th century crosses outside the cathedrals in both Cuernavaca and Mexico City probably represent more a reflection on mortality or  memento mori (Latin: “remember you will die”) than a reference to the Day of the Dead.




 

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (3)

This is the third in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire.

Costumbres y Tradiciones (customs and traditions) – One of our talks included the charming concept of Mexico’s own “Vitamin T” – tacos, tostadas, tamales, tortas, tlacoyos and, of course, tequila. In Dora’s kitchen, we happily ate a great deal of Vitamin T. One Dora’s oldest kitchen tools was her mother’s molcajete (mortar) and temolote (pestle) for grinding spices. We saw more modern molcajetes in the market, painted with dog and pig faces. Even when our group got up early for day trips to visit Tepotzotlán and Mexico City, Dora was always there to be sure we were well fed and cared for. On our last day, she took us on a special trip to the municipal market to buy flameware pots after we admired those she used so well.

 

   

Another part of the Costumbres y Tradiciones talk was about the Virgin of Guadalupe whose 1531 image was ubiquitous during our travels in Mexico. We learned that Guadalupe has a connection to Tonantzin, the Aztec mother goddess, and that many believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe who do not believe in Jesus Christ, or even God. I did not know until hearing this talk that there is an Arabic connection to Guadalupe: the name (probably) derives from that of a Spanish river, the name for which has Arabic roots. Since my house in San Jose, California, is on the Guadalupe River, I was very interested!

 

 

One of the lovely old churches we walked by every time we went to downtown Cuernavaca was Parroquia San José El Calvario which not only has a variety of images of the Virgin of Guadalupe inside but a special building for her statue on the street outside. In addition to the prominent outside image of Mary, inside San José El Calvario I found a saint I never heard of before, San Charbel Makhlouf – a Maronite monk of Lebanon. I found another statue of San Charbel in the Parroquia de la Asuncion, Sagrario Metropolitano, in Mexico City. In both churches, his image stood above collections of many colored satin ribbons. A Catholic friend from Michoacán told me that San Charbel is very popular and powerful and that each ribbon represents thanks for a healing. In 2013, during our visit to Lebanon, TechWomen Fellow Adla Chatila took my daughter Jessica and me to see the Cedars of Lebanon, Khalil Gibran‘s home, and the Mar Bishay Hermitage, Qozhaya. The Monastery of Qozhaya is close to where San Charbel is from. I was not expecting to see so many connections to the Middle East while in Mexico.

 
Parroquia San José El Calvario, Cuernavaca 2019

 
San Charbel Makhlouf in Parroquia San José El Calvario, Cuernavaca, and in Mexico City, 2019

  

 
Monastery of Qozhaya, 2013

Iglesia del Río de la Plata y La Colectiva Diversa – In addition to the Spanish lessons and talks, our class went on a variety of field trips, including spending an evening with an inspiring community church in Cuernavaca called Iglesia del Río de la Plata y La Colectiva Diversa, lead for over thirty years by Rev. Alfonso Leija. Rev. Alfonso generously shared his remarkable story of developing the church and small hospice to support the LGBTQ community during the early AIDs epidemic. We heard from some of the church members and briefly shared something about ourselves. I only wish the air pollution had been less intense that night so that we could have learned more.

Photos Copyright 2013-2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (2)

This is the second in a short series about my two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico, with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire (Paulo Freire International Center for Languages, Art and Culture). In addition to Spanish grammar and conversation each morning, our group benefitted from a variety of talks (“charlas”) on social justice topics.

Migración: Testimonios de una familia guatemalteca: Our first speaker shared his difficult experience as an immigrant many years ago from Guatemala to Mexico, and his continued work for political change, particularly to benefit indigenous people like the Maya, at the same time as making a living and raising a family in his new country. Two of our questions after his presentation:

  • “What can the US do to help?” – Make sure that donations actually get to the people in need and are not taken by someone else along the way.
  • “What was most difficult after moving to Mexico?” -The family had to repress their home culture until they could get their legal status sorted out in Mexico. It was difficult not being able to speak Mayan with his wife during those first years. His kids understand but speak very little Mayan.

El Método de las CEBs: Our next talk was the first of several about base communities (Comunidades Eclesiales de Base, or CEBs), which were also the subject of one of the papers we read before we came to Mexico: “Back to Basics Mexican Style: Radical Catholicism and Survival on the Margins” by Elsa Guzmán and Christopher Martin, Bulletin of Latin American Research Vol. 16, No. 3 (1997), pp. 351-366.  The CEBs are small groups that meet monthly long term, using liberation theology, prayer, and radical community action to live out their Christian faith. Their method (método) is:

  1. Ver – see and identify community issues
  2. Pensar – think and prioritize with eyes and heart
  3. Actuar – act as a group to work on the community issue
  4. Evaluar – evaluate the action and progress
  5. Celebrar – celebrate, give thanks with hospitality

Each group’s scope of action is small but may include civil disobedience to resolve a community issue, such as trash not being picked up. We were able to join a CEBs group in their regular meeting, including a prayerful reflection about a collection of objects related to the ongoing celebration of the three kings. We ended the reunion (meeting) with the Prayer for Peace, below, followed by cookies and hot juice. CEBs were started in Cuernavaca by the beloved Bishop Sergio Méndez Arceo, who is locally called Don Sergio.




¡¡Viva Cristo Rey Y Juez!!
ORACIÓN POR LA PAZ
Señor Jesús, tu eres nuestra paz, mira nuestra Patria dañada por la violencia y dispersa por el miedo y la inseguridad. Consuela el dolor de quienes sufren. Da acierto a las decisiones de quienes nos gobiernan. Toca el corazón de quienes olvidan que somos hermanos y provocan sufrimiento y muerte. Dales el don de la conversión. Protege a las familias, a nuestros niños, adolescentes y jóvenes, a nuestros pueblos y comunidades. Que como discípulos misioneros tuyos, ciudadanos responsables, sepamos ser promotores de justicia y de paz, para que en ti, nuestro pueblo tenga vida digna.
Amén.
Viva Christ the King and Judge!!
PRAYER FOR PEACE
Lord Jesus, you are our peace, Look at our Homeland damaged by violence and scattered by fear and insecurity. Comfort the pain of those who suffer. Give success to the decisions of those who govern us. Touch the hearts of those who forget that we are brothers and cause suffering and death. Give them the gift of conversion. Protect families, our children, adolescents and young people, our peoples and communities. That, as missionary disciples of yours, as responsible citizens, we can be promoters of justice and peace, so that in you our people may have a decent life.
Amen.

 

Mexico and Morocco: Something I did not expect while in Mexico was a number of similarities I noticed with Morocco. I was a member of TechWomen Delegations to Morocco in 2011 and 2014, and in 2018 was a TechWomen Impact Coach for Morocco. I find much to admire in both Mexico and Morocco – not the least is the grace with which those nations manage their centuries-old and complex relationships with the USA. While the countries are different in many ways, some of the similarities I saw were architectural: the homes I visited were focused inward and designed to keep things cool, often using traditional building materials with thick walls, ceramic or stone floor tiles, and decorative ironwork that stand up well in a hot climate. Other similarities were cultural, including remarkable hospitality to strangers and generosity toward those in need. There were also simpler commonalities like terra cotta cooking pots (“flameware“) and embroidered linens in regular use, plus a long history of excellent artisan work in silver, leather, and weaving.


Household pottery markets: in Cuernavaca, Mexico (2019), and Fez, Morocco (2014)


Dogs on roof: in Cuernavaca, Mexico (2019), and Fez, Morocco (2014)


Embroidered linens: from Oaxaca, Mexico (2019), and Marrakesh, Morocco (2011)

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (1)

I just returned from a two week Spanish language and social justice immersion program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. This first post provides an overview, part of a short series about what we saw and learned.

Communities of Liberation Blog Series: The posts in this series are-

    1. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (1): About Blogging, Course Description, Celebrating 3 Kings, local homes, Cuernavaca, Museo de Arte Sacro, Tonantzin
    2. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (2): Immigration, Base Communities, Mexico and Morocco
    3. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (3): Customs and traditions, Virgin of Guadalupe, San Charbel Makhlouf of Lebanon, Iglesia del Río de la Plata and the LGBTQ community
    4. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (4): Don Sergio Méndez Arceo, Museo Morelense de Arte Contemporaneo Juan Soriano, Coco, the Day of the Dead
    5. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (5): Museo de Arte Prehispánico Colección Carlos Pellicer, Yolcatl: La representación animal en el Morelos Prehispánico, Museum of Memory and Tolerance (Museo Memoria y Tolerancia), Hate Speech, Rwandan genocide, Diego Rivera murals
    6. Communities of Liberation, Cuernavaca Mexico (6): Indigenous people, Zapatistas, Marichuy and 2018 elections

These six blog posts and 100 photos are being submitted to fulfill Pacific School of Religion (PSR) class requirements. My goal in writing these blogs is to present my experience and observations, raise questions and share new information, and to inspire my readers to learn more. I have over 5,000 potential readers in the USA, Middle East, Africa, Central and East Asia and other areas: 2,673 direct blog subscribers, 1,203 on Facebook, 1,361 on Twitter, not counting cross posts to other sites. The blog series is collected under the tag Mexico.

About Blogging and Katysblog: This blog series makes use of the interactive nature of the web log (blog). If you want to see a larger version of any photo, select it. If you want to know more about a subject that is highlighted in blue (or underlined in a printout), click the blue text to go to the linked page. If you want to communicate with me, the author, to ask a question or make a correction, click on the Comment bubble at the bottom of the blog entry. You can learn more about me on the “About Katy Dickinson” page. You can learn more about Katysblog on the “About Katysblog, Using Pictures” page. I hope you enjoy reading, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Communities of Liberation Course class: The Graduate Theological Union course was lead by Professor Bernie Schlager of PSR who accompanied the five of us. Three of the graduate students were from the Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary of California Lutheran University (PLTS-CLU), one was from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), and I joined from PSR.  The course started in December 2018 at PSR in Berkeley with two regular class sessions about the history of Mexico and key social justice topics. The Communities of Liberation Course Description:

This course, offered in partnership with Pacific School of Religion‘s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) and CILAC Freire in Cuernavaca, Mexico, will explore communities of liberation in contemporary Mexico, focusing on LGBTQ and women’s communities as well on issues of economic justice within Mexico and between Mexico and the United States.

On weekdays students will participate in ten days of language instruction, including three hours per day of formal classes and daily guided conversations. The classes follow a liberation pedagogy, emphasizing student-led learning and active participation. Each student will be placed in a home stay with native Spanish speakers. Home-stay sites are carefully selected and affirming of diversity in sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and ethnicity.

In addition, students will participate in field trips to important cultural and artistic sites; non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and community settings to gain greater awareness and understanding of Mexican history, culture, and social justice efforts. Students will also benefit from seminars on historical, political, and cultural topics, and there will be many opportunities for conversation with local community members.

We six arrived in Mexico on 5 January 2019, in time to celebrate the Biblical Magi on the Día de Reyes with Rosca de Reyes cake. In Mexico, the Magi arrive on a camel, horse, and elephant rather than just the camels I am used to seeing. During the first week, we saw nativity scenes all over town, some of them life size or larger. Cilac Freire, which describes itself as “the most progressive Spanish & English school in Mexico” presented us with traditional small gifts on our first day and told us that those who found one of the little Jesus figures baked into the crown-shaped cake would get to provide tamales for everyone. Cilac Freire was named in honor of Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire.


Our group was split between several local households which we shared with students in other Cilac Freire programs. I was one of three women who were lucky enough to be hosted at the home with the shortest walk to the school and two charming dogs: Guera (“Blondie”) and Queta. Our host Dora valiantly and lovingly supported our various food preferences and allergies and worked hard to get us to speak only Spanish at home by the second week.


Cuernavaca is the capital of the State of Morelos, south of Mexico City. It is a vacation destination for many in Mexico as well as for foreigners who attend its language schools. In the 19th century, Alexander von Humboldt named it the City of Eternal Spring. Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés built his palace there in 1526 (but most of the palace and cathedral were closed for repairs following the 2017 earthquake).  Cuernavaca is a vibrant place full of friendly people, good restaurants and museums, and busy traffic.

On our first day, we walked downtown to the centro or Zócalo to see the cathedral with its open-roofed chapel and Museo de Arte Sacro de Cuernavaca. I there learned about Tonantzin, the Aztec mother goddess whose carved stone figure was found buried in the wall of the cathedral and who has a relationship to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Guadalupe was to become a regular feature of our two weeks in Mexico.







Blog post updated 5 Feb 2019

Photos Copyright 2019 by Katy Dickinson

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Exegesis of Ruth

Following up on my first exegetical paper on a passage about Deborah from Judges in the Hebrew Bible, here is a second, from Ruth. Professor Aaron Brody asked us to write this paper to a particular audience. I already presented this material to one of my classes in Elmwood Jail – they loved it!


Rhetorical Use of Texts, Final Paper – Ruth

For my final exegetical paper, I have chosen to interpret Ruth 1:6-18 using a feminist hermeneutic method. In choosing this pericope, I am not just analyzing a famous passage from my favorite book of scripture but am also considering the displacement of peoples and migration that have become heated issues in current politics, as well as the several ancient cultural and political boundaries that were crossed in this Bible reading. I am addressing this analysis to the audience of my conservative evangelical male students in Elmwood jail who are very patient with their feminist Episcopal mentor. My argument is that the passage presents an unusually loving relationship between women of different nations and families of origin who are not currently wives or mothers. By casting the story in the past and using what Elaine Wainwright calls, “…women’s stories, the understory of the dominant narrative…,”[1] the author of the Book of Ruth presents complex political circumstances like migration, and social issues like marriage outside of the faith, in a way that is safe and acceptable to his readers.

The Book of Ruth opens by saying it is set “In the days when the judges ruled…” – that is, presumably, in the time of the Book of Judges. However, modern scholars tell us that Ruth was probably written significantly later than Judges.[2] Our story is thus set in the past and tells is the interactions between Naomi, the widow of Elimelech of Bethlehem in Judah, and her two widowed daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah of Moab. Bethlehem is just south of Jerusalem on the west side of the Dead Sea in what is now the country of Israel (occupied Palestine), and the ancient country of Moab is on the east side of the Dead Sea in what is now the nation of Jordan. Christians today think of Bethlehem as the birthplace of Ruth’s descendent Jesus; however, in Ruth’s day, it would have been famous as the place where Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin, “…Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19-20). The second mention of Ephrath in the Hebrew Bible is in Ruth 1:2, which says Elimelech and his family were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. So, the passage under consideration is not just about women in the far back time of the judges but also makes indirect reference to one of the most beloved women in the Hebrew Bible who lived even earlier.

The Book of Ruth tells the private story of a famous figure. Much of the early part of the book is told from the point of view of female private relationships; however, as Naomi and Ruth migrate from Moab to Judah, they move into public view. Their arrival is certainly noticed, “When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them…” (Ruth 1:19). Outside of the text, readers of this book also know of the importance of Ruth as the ancestress of both King David and Jesus. Janice Capel Anderson writes that biblical texts dealing with circumstances like birth, nursing, and menstruation, and the lack of men, give women importance and power, “Often the text and many interpretations create and reflect a division between a female private domestic sphere and a public male sphere (and nature and culture).”[3] Strengthening the female context in the pericope is that Naomi asks her daughters-in-law to return to their mother’s house, not their father’s house (Ruth 1:8).

Elimelech and his family had moved around what we know as the Dead Sea to Moab because of famine, then Ruth 1:6 says that Naomi is heading back home to Judah because there was food there. The text “…she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6) indicates that food is not just scarce for this one family. That is, this poor family’s movement between countries to better their situation may be taken as part of a larger migration. To a modern reader, Ruth and Naomi can give a human face to marginalized populations at extreme risk. They are like the millions of Palestinians who are now residents in occupied lands in Israel, dual passport holders in Jordan, or refugees in Lebanon and Syria with no sovereign land of their own.[4] and [5] Or, Ruth and Naomi may be considered like the vast migrant work populations of the world who do seasonal work like picking crops, construction, or services supporting tourism.[6] Living in occupied territory or in a refugee camp in someone else’s country can be like being incarcerated.[7] Like their modern equivalents, this small family is vulnerable to violence as well as hunger. One of Boaz’s first acts to help Ruth is to order the young men in his fields not to bother her (Ruth 2:9).

Naomi blesses her daughters-in-law by asking that the Lord deal kindly with them and grant them security and new husbands (Ruth 1:8-9). The word security brings to mind how much insecurity Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah must feel. Their insecurity may be because of food scarcity, their coming migration, the lack of men in the family, or all of these. Naomi Steinberg writes of the social structure of kinship in Israelite society, describing the smallest unit as bet-‘ab (family household), followed by mishpaha (lineage, descent group), then shebet (tribe). Steinberg observes, “Possibly the mishpaha served protective functions in the time frame presupposed in the book of Judges.”[8] In the Book of Ruth, the word security is positive, synonymous with safety. As those who are incarcerated know, in American culture, the word security is often used to create fear. That fear can then be an excuse to exclude and oppress the marginalized. For example, in his recent speech “Remarks by President Trump on the Illegal Immigration Crisis and Border Security,” Donald Trump said immigrants are tough unknowns who threaten our security and should be kept out.

We have no idea who they are. All we know is they’re pretty tough people when they can blast through the Mexican Military and Mexican police… I don’t want them in our country. And women don’t want them in our country. Women want security. Men don’t want them in our country… They want to have security. They don’t want to have these people in our country. And they’re not going to be in our country. It’s a very big thing.”[9]

In Ruth 11-13, Naomi presents herself to her daughters-in-law as worthless, only as an empty source of sons for them to marry. Her expression is consistent with what Cheryl Exum writes, “Motherhood is the patriarchy’s highest reward for women; it offers women one of the few roles in which they can achieve status in patriarchal society.”[10] Naomi defines her value in terms of her sons and assumes that is how her daughters-in-law see her. Even though Naomi’s words may be said in an ironic tone, as a feminist I find her self-abasement painful to read. When Ruth responds to her mother-in-law with one of the world’s great poetic statements of absolute devotion, the emotional appeal of her words is profound. Ruth words are often quoted in weddings; I used Ruth’s words around the border of my own wedding invitations.

In many ways, Naomi and Ruth are unusual women in an uncommon relationship. Ruth has no children yet and Naomi’s sons are dead in a society that primarily valued a woman for her sons. In modern cultures, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship is often portrayed as difficult; however, in this case Ruth and Naomi are devoted to each other. In effect, their mutual love shows that although these two women are traveling alone, they are virtuous and safe. They are too focused on each other and on seeking the security of Naomi’s mishpaha to be dangerous women. As a Moabite, Ruth could be seen in the dangerous role of an exotic foreigner, who has a non-mother, and migrant has little social standing or reputation. As Exum writes, “The erotic is associated not with the mother but rather with another kind of woman – the disreputable woman, the bad woman, the foreign (“other”) woman.”[11] However, Ruth is not portrayed erotically, rather the focus is on her extreme faithfulness and kindness to Naomi and her willingness to follow the God of Israel (Ruth 2:10-12). Ruth is presented as being virtuous enough for Naomi and Boaz to love and a worthy Great Grandmother for King David.

The writer of Ruth wrote a great story of personal devotion that defuses the potentially explosive topics of foreign women, migrants, and women with no husbands or children. He used poetry and love to make Ruth safe. We in modern times, who are still grappling with the potential for our society to devalue migrants and refugees, to make them into inhuman threats, can learn from Ruth’s graceful story.


Footnotes

[1] Elaine M. Wainwright, “In Memory of Her! Exploring the Political Power of Readings – Feminist and Ecological,” Feminist Theology 23, 2 (2015): 213.

[2] Mark Poyser, “Hebrew Bible Sources Timeline (Jewish Canon),” Biblediagrams, copyrighted 2005, http://biblediagrams.com/diagrams/images%201280×1024/hebrew-bible-books-timeline.htm.

[3] Janice Capel Anderson, “Feminist Criticism: The Dancing Daughter,” in Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, eds. Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 117.

[4] “Palestine Refugees: Locations and Numbers,” 16 January 2018, IRIN, accessed 9 December 2018, http://www.irinnews.org/report/89571/middle-east-palestinian-refugee-numberswhereabouts.

[5] Shaul M. Gabbay, “The Status of Palestinians in Jordan and the Anomaly of Holding a Jordanian Passport,” Journal of Political Sciences & Public Affairs 2:113, 5 February 2014, https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/the-status-of-palestinians-in-jordan-and-the-anomaly-of-holding-a-jordanian-passport-2332-0761.1000113.php?aid=23346.

[6] “New ILO Figures Show 164 Million People are Migrant Workers,” 5 December 2018, International Labour Organization, accessed 9 December 2018, https://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_652106/lang–en/index.htm.

[7] Katy Dickinson, “Understanding Gaza,” Katysblog (blog), 16 March 2016, https://katysblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/16/understanding-gaza/.

[8] Naomi Steinberg, “Social-Scientific Criticism: Judges 9 and Issues of Kinship,” in Judges & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 52-53.

[9] Donald Trump, “Remarks by President Trump on the Illegal Immigration Crisis and Border Security,” The White House, 1 November 2018, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-illegal-immigration-crisis-border-security/.

[10] Cheryl Exum, “Feminist Criticism: Whose Interests Are Being Served,” in in Judges & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Gale A. Yee (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2007), 78-79.

[11] Exum, “Feminist Criticism,” 79.


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