Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Vayera

Okay. Reading is just plain dangerous. The “Forward” news journal contains a story about the Jewish roots of the music from the Swedish group “ABBA.” Now, many of us always sensed the connection, and the article brought out ideas beyond which I had ever heard, but it got me thinking. Looking at the quartet in the 1970’s – 80’s, “they didn’t look Jewish.” And I think about my wife Lori’s story. She is blonde with blue eyes and can trace her Jewish lineage on both sides of her family many … many generations. She lost count of the number of times people ask her when she converted.

In reading this week’s Torah portion, I stopped and reflected on something I have asked and taught for many years … in a different context. I have been blessed to have an alternative career in consulting and training. I facilitate and lead training in leadership, visioning, and diversity awareness. The first time that I conducted a diversity workshop, it was as part of an eight-week workshop that Reverend Leo Woodberry and I designed for the Florence, SC Chamber of Commerce membership. Each week saw us deal with diversity/racism in a different facet of life. One week it was about religion. I commented (in front of a multi-ethnic group of 80), Racism is so systemic that humans gave God a race. I shared my concern … as a non-Christian … for the many times I walked into Black churches and saw a white Jesus displayed. At best, Jesus was Semitic (if not Black). Why? Scripture tells us where he comes from and his ancestry.

SO, in reading about Abraham sitting in his tent this week (about to meet God and the angels), it dawned on me that he is from Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is Persian. Persia is somewhere between Asia, Semitic Middle East, and Africa. Abraham (assuming historicity) was not white. I now had to go back and rethink the whole biblical lineage thing. Yes, I realize that these are stories and not histories (or herstories … to be punfully correct), but how many people do we know who put their entire stock and trade into using their literal reading of the Bible as absolute inerrant truth? It seems that a racist undercurrent developed through the biblical lineages. Noah had three sons. One of them, Ham, embarrassed his father and got cursed. We can talk about who might be responsible for the altercation another time, but because Ham became the progenitor of the African world, White Biblicists through history have used this story to point out that being Black (African) is a curse.

Here is my problem: If Ham is Black, then Shem and Japheth had to also be Black. As Biblical tradition has it, Noah was from Mesopotamia … and was not white. So, they may or may not have been Black, but they were not White, and they all came from the same lineage. Whatever nations they “fathered;” the differences between them is not biological, and hence, not racial.

Given the way in which we are talking about each other in today’s toxic atmosphere, I think it is important to remember how we rewrote the Bible to reflect the values we wanted to impose on it … and then force upon everyone else. I am a man of devout faith, but my faith rests in God and not in human words that get be manipulated over time. For all in our racial majority here, let’s take a step back and rethink the whole notion that the Bible tells us that we are #1. We have simply taken figures without race (including God), given them our race, and then imposed that belief on everyone else. Funny (sardonically) every major religion participates in giving its characters race and culture, based on its own predominant race and culture. I have to wonder: when the Psalmist tells us that God never rests or sleeps (Psalm 121:4), is it because of the madness we keep trying to impose on God and by which we try to bind God? I have trouble sleeping over just the machinations of my own community! God must have really broad shoulders. Seriously, let’s get over ourselves and realize that the ultimate message of everybody’s Scripture is that we come from the very same stuff and need to respect that in each other. Shabbat Shalom.