On Leah in Genesis 29.31-35: “The Second One.”

The lectionary has me reading, in a fragile time, the stories in Genesis of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah. It’s almost a subtle touch of mockery that at the same moment, clips of Song of Songs are also part of the reading: poetic confessions of love at the top, heartbreaking stories of patriarchs and dreadful patriarchy to follow. Then the New Testament passages retrace the nature of sin and redemption, and I try to read the intention of the lectionary, or perhaps the wisdom of God, in bringing these pieces of Word together. Especially in this July moment.

Suffering is part of the biblical witness of womanhood. Leah, in today’s passage, Genesis 29.31-35, names her first four children with Jacob. They are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah. They are named with Leah’s evolving longing and then resignation/revelation: “It is because YHWH has seen my misery; surely my husband will love me now,” then “Because YHWH heard me that I am not loved, he gave me this one too,” then “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons,” and finally, “This time I will praise YHWH.”

It’s a tragic series of painful names. From Leah. Her father’s trick. Her husband’s undesired, second one. Like Hagar and Ishmael. Esau. Cast-asides.

In a moment of racial reckoning, we are debating monuments and musicals of “slaveholding” (enslaving) men who abused, raped, impregnated, murdered, shamefully dehumanized and exploited others. Maybe the difference here is that in the case of these patriarchs, the Scripture makes clear their ugliness. The American Mythology of Washington and Jefferson vaunts them as heroes. Scripture has few redeeming moments for the virtues of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And instead, the Scripture uses its attention on the stories of the reviled second one.

I feel like the reviled second one.

Today, I read this strange, simple passage, Leah naming her children. And I wept and could not stop weeping. Feeling like always the second son, the rejected one. Unrequited and unreciprocated. Always hoping, this is the one, this is the one that will make them love me now, at last.

And God would have me finally stop. And rest. And say, “This time I will praise the Lord.”

Suffering is part of the biblical witness of Christ. The stone the builders rejected. No stately form or majesty, afflicted and pierced. Judah goes on to have a shameful history himself. Selling Joseph. Tamar. But that’s the line of David and of Christ, the scepter. It’s a brutal, ugly history of desire, dishonesty, dehumanization, individuals birthing a legacy of systemic and cultural rebellion and betrayal. It’s somehow the place where God decides in Scriptures to show up.

It seems too daring or presumptuous to hope that God would be showing up in the profound ugliness of me and my life. It feels like an airless, narrow passage, and God does not appear to be here.

In this summer of sheltering in place, a summer I’d originally planned to be pursuing long overdue projects and finding my creative breath,  I’m instead finding myself overwhelmed with the amount of attention required to simple breathe, survive, exist in my family, inhabit my body…

I feel that I am the second one. And at the end of a long and ugly rope of my life, I hope to finally be able to say, this time I will praise the Lord.

Groanings & the Hope of Glory

Our spirits groan for injustices committed against Black lives.

Last night, as Eastertide moved to Ordinary Time on the liturgical calendar, I resolved to stop using my phone in bed. Ironically, I haven’t had a night where I’ve had more reason to clutch my phone by my side more in a long time. Sheltered-in-place for months, then called to a citywide curfew at 11pm, helicopters overhead, sirens blaring as cars flew down the street right outside our bedroom window, I stayed glued to social media and the reports from people living nearby us, images of burnt Walmarts and rumors of home break-ins by looters (unfounded, I think… a “telephone” mix-up of actual news of “Home Depot” break-ins). The #SanLeandro trending Twitter posts sprinkled those rumors and reports with retweeted petitions for Emerald Black, miscarried last year after being kicked by San Leandro PD, and images of Steven Taylor, tased and killed by police at the local Walmart while wielding but a bat.

Learn more about Steven Taylor

So with mall break-ins nearby at the same time as nationwide grief over George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and more, peaceful protests and social uprisings, my protective dad-vigilance reared into high gear. It’s already been activated, as moral urgency and grief make me feel need to be on the streets protesting despite our household’s tighter pandemic quarantining. Last night, I stayed up, praying and watching out the window, refusing fear or weapons, concerned for our neighbors.

This morning’s lectionary reading came from Joel 2 about the years the locusts have taken and pouring out the Spirit, and Romans 8 about the creation groaning in frustration, longing for liberation from its bondage to decay. I wonder about the young-men-who-could-be-me-but-for-grace, risking something to get out there to that crowded Walmart on a Sunday night, whether spurred by fury or frustration or freeloading or fear, to steal goods and set fires.

We are, I grieve, suckered into a desperate consumerist culture that parcels us into purchasing agents, the only semblance of our significance we can feel. The economic insecurity, already there but now plummeted to fearsome lows, as every one of us knows someone close who is unemployed and scared.

And the rage is real. To listen to Nikole Hannah-Jones listening to men arguing whose anguish and contradictions are as sincere and painful as any people of conscience. I try to listen and learn, and I watch my partner doing that too. We listen to discussions, we read about marchers, we immerse in policy and history and narratives. It’s inadequate; it’s wrenching; it spurs action and restlessness; it’s also just more borrowed valor for those of us who get to choose when to identify and claim solidarity. For the Black, Indigenous, Latinx whose histories of oppression and dispossession at the hands of White American cops and governments and—yes—schools, it is hard to moralize about the righteousness of any actions from that rage. Maybe necessary, but wrong if you think it’s easy.

These pass through my mind as I sit by the window and watch and worry about my daughter and wife, our bed not ten feet from the street where police race to Bay Fair. It is for these sorts of groanings that Paul wrote Romans 8, right in the teeth of empire. For the gritted crises that Joel wrote that God promised God would restore and pour out.

The hope of glory that reminds us each of us are, even in the face of systemic death, worth God’s identification with us and our sufferings, we image bearers. George Floyd, image bearer. Breonna Taylor, image bearer. Steven Taylor, image bearer.