Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Joy, Mike, and Diet
Defining God is tricky business. Think not? Read a few pages of human history.
Few of our forbearers or our contemporaries, clothed as they may be in animal furs or beaver hats or Superman shirts, didn't or don't have an opinion on who God (or god) is or was or forever shalt be. Classic atheists exist, to be sure, but not in significant numbers. Most of us have dreams we align with a theology of some type--and a revelation, whether it's of the Bible or the Koran or some midnight moment alive with bewonderment--or some weighty hybrid thereof.
So I think Vice President Mike Pence had reason to be aggrieved by what Joy Behar claimed was a joke. She apologized, claimed herself a Christian ("I give my money to a church"-- apparently a substantial part of her definition). For the record, what Behar called a joke was a bit more than a tease: she said that if Pence actually thinks he hears from God, he's crazy (or something to that effect).
Which had Fox News and every conservative on the face of the earth bare-fisting both Ms. Behar and The View, the show she's part of.
What's more Behar's snarky quip came from the report of a woman generally thought somewhat loony herself, Omarosa Manigault, who has made it to the top so successfully that, like Oprah or The Donald, she is recognizable only by her first name. Omaraosa, who worked for Trump in some as yet unknown capacity, claimed that of the two national leaders--the Pres and the VP--the really crazy one was Mike Pence, because Pence believes that God (in this case, upper case) speaks to him. That's the opening salvo.
Talk about an old fight! Here's the question: "What is revelation?" Talk among yourselves.
My roots are in a pious culture in which people speak of the Almighty (if I use almighty, I'm defining my theology; if I capitalize it, I'm even more specific), as if he (if I use the masculine pronoun, I'm revealing my theology too) were a good buddy. I know very well how that goes. I'm a part of that world. In a way, it's the language of Mike Pence and millions of evangelicals.
The intimacy inherent in being able to say, for instance, that "God told me to write this book," is comforting, but, as Omarosa claims (and Behar reiterated), it can also be, well, scary. Think Harold Camping, for instance. Think David Koresh. Think Warren Jeffs. Think about a thousand men and women--Ralph Waldo Emerson, for pity sake--who claimed their own individually-wrapped revelations from God or god or whatever name you'd prefer.
I listened, last week, to a recitation I'd heard innumerable times before, but not often in the last decade or so. On You Tube, I heard Diet Eman tell a story, her story, of life in occupied Holland during World War II.
One of her favorite episodes--and one of the most memorable descriptions--occurs when her resistance group gets together to talk about what they can do. They have an immediate and huge problem, one they hadn't anticipated when they began to relocate citified Jewish people throughout the Protestant countryside: they need ration cards. Food was scarce anyway, but if a family took in two or three Jewish people--they thought the war would be over in a few months--keeping people fed became a matter of life and death.
What they decided--those good Christians, following what they believed to be God's own will in rescuing Jews--was that they had to willfully break a commandment, "Thou shalt not steal." They had to break into government offices to get more ration cards to save more Jewish people, and Allied pilots, and others in hiding from the Nazis.
When she tells the tale, the words she uses are both interesting and defining. She says the whole group went down on their knees to ask God for help, not just in doing the robberies, but in outlining for them what their calling was to be in these horrific times.
Her story about the desperate need for ration cards starts at about 17:05. Her explanation of the answer to prayer is about 17:35. Listen to how she tells it.
And "it came to us," she says when she describes what happened. She says it twice: "and it came to us" that we had to do robberies. She could have said, "God told us to do robberies," but instead she stays somehow cautious and deliberately uses a passive construction--"it came to us," she says. That too is a definition. She doesn't say, "God spoke to us" or "God told us to do robberies." She's less sure about their actions than she is about God's love.
Joy Behar wasn't all wrong. She says be wary when people say that God told them to do this or that or that the other thing. There's good reason.
But neither was Vice President Pence wrong. Every believer thinks God speaks to him or her in some way or another. I do too.
But I must admit I like Diet Eman's choice of words. I like the hesitant way she described what she and the resistance fighters heard when on their knees during those nights they planned robberies in the name of their God.
I think she knows God is always, always, bigger than we are.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:05 AM