You Have Roots, Too

I’ve been reading through Exodus. It’s a pretty epic story. I’ve always liked Moses. I loved the animated movie The Prince of Egypt as a kid. And I would plead with my parents to let me stay up to watch The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston when it would be on television near Passover. (IMDB says that Heston was not only Moses in that movie, he was also the voice of God. What a man.)

What’s not to like about Moses’s story? It’s got everything you could want. An evil king. A strong male lead. Magic. A chase scene. A few fight scenes. Blood. A burning bush. And snakes. That’s pretty cool.

Moses was not like this.

Except Moses was nothing like Charlton Heston. He was a man who had been raised as royalty who one day found out he was actually a slave. And that did not create a sense of justice in him. It scared him. He fled Egypt because he was scared. And then when God talked to him in the burning bush, Moses was scared again.

He argued with God. He said, “I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Moses was not a natural born leader. He wasn’t witty. He wasn’t popular at cocktail parties. He didn’t always have the right thing to say.

But God reassured him and told him that He would use Moses’s brother Aaron as a mouthpiece. And then Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites be let  go. And he says no and forces the Israelites to make bricks without straw. Moses and Aaron are defeated.

The people of Israel turn on Moses and Aaron. And Moses calls out to God “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Exodus 5:22-3).

Then, two things happen. First, God gives Moses and Aaron a pep talk. I’m pretty sure all sports movies are modeled after the book of Exodus. Underdogs train hard. Underdogs are unsuccessful at first. Coach gives an amazing monologue type speech. Cue musical montage to a classic rock song featuring the Egyptians falling prey to the plagues.

Second, the author of Exodus (probably Moses?) stops narration to give a genealogy of Moses and Aaron. At first, it feels like really bad story-telling. It disrupts the flow of narrative; it doesn’t feel entirely relevant; and it’s hard to read.

I started thinking about it, though. Who has genealogies? Kings. Royalty. Important people. No one cares about a slave’s genealogy. Slaves hardly have names.

I think, often, I’m a little bit like Moses, pre-success. I’m angry that God has asked me to do something that doesn’t make immediate sense to me. I think that people are more important than me. I rarely stop to ponder my own identity, my own name, my own genealogy. And so I start thinking of myself as a bit player in someone else’s life.

There are no bit players. In God’s story, we all deserve genealogies.

Turning the Other Cheek Turns Emotions Into Justice

I’ve always kind of struggled with the concept of turning the other cheek and all that.

Our God is one of justice, right?

The Lord works righteousness
And justice for all the oppressed (Psalm 103:6)

So why then are we not allowed to help with that whole justice thing?

A lot of people try to explain this away by saying that we don’t really know what justice is – that only God can judge. I don’t know about that. I know that rape, murder, and slavery are wrong. That’s a judgment. I think I am capable of judging. And we forget that turning the other cheek has to do with someone slapping you. Slapping is pretty wrong, I think. I know that I don’t like it when someone slaps me.

I’m in a Psychology of Gender class this quarter. In that class, we are learning about pro-feminist men right now. Pro-feminist men are men who actively support feminist women to push gender equality. I think pro-feminist men are pretty awesome. Feminist women are pretty awesome, too. It takes a lot of courage to stand up against oppression. But I’ve been thinking a lot about pro-feminist men. I’ve been thinking about how they don’t really have a lot to gain from gender equality. Men are on top. In fact, a lot of men fear that gender equality would mean loss of status for themselves. Pro-feminist men have to believe that gender equality is intrinsically more important than having a wife who stays at home or who is submissive.

There are studies out there that show that the shackles of oppression begin to fall off when members of the oppressor group begin to speak out for the oppressed. Sexism is most successfully combated when men correct their friends when they make a sexist joke or when men refuse to take a job that they have obtained based on sexist hiring practices.

Like most things Jesus taught, the turn the other cheek policy shows a keen insight into human nature. It’s easy to be angry when you have been attacked. It’s easy to clamor for justice, then. But mostly, that’s just emotion. When a friend makes fun of me, I am not mad because my friend has violated the intrinsically moral rule that making fun of people is wrong. I am mad because I was the subject of the ridicule. And if I say anything, it is easy for my friends to say that I am making a mountain out of a molehill. But what if I never got mad when people made fun of me? What if, instead, I made fun of myself?

Then, when someone was making fun of another friend, I could say something. Because people would say “Hey, Spencer is usually so chill about joking around. We must really be out of line if he’s not okay with this joke.”

That’s what turning the other cheek does. It creates a world in which people know that your emotions are not tied to your sense of justice.

God is Gestaltian

There’s a psychological school, theory, or effect (depending on who you talk to) known as Gestalt psychology. Gestalt is a German term meaning “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form.” Pretty heavy stuff.

The basic Gestalt effect is best summarized by the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There are a lot of different pictures and optical illusions that demonstrate the Gestalt effect. But here’s a relatively good one:

Instead of just seeing three Pacmen and three acute angles when looking at this picture, most people see a white triangle overlapping a black-outlined triangle and three black circles. That’s good ol’ Gestalt working hard.

The Gestalt effect, as a concept that was talked about, originated in the late 19th century. Until then, most people thought that if you studied a thing’s parts, you were studying that thing.

To the modern mind, ingrained with Gestaltian thinking, the idea that people didn’t consider the Gestalt effect seems absurd. I was pondering this absurdity when I remembered the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:20:

 For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.

And there it is. The truth of the Gestalt effect right there in the Bible. One person plus one person does not equal two people. It equals two people and God and a dynamic relationship.