A bit of random and a golden calf to boot

A couple of headlines caught my eye over the past couple of days…

I find this woman and her story to be fascinating, and not necessarily in a good way. By now, I am sure everyone has heard the name Rachel Dolezal.

My favorite picture is this one here–notice the book she is holding:

(Snickering)

The story behind it all gets more interesting by the minute, but let me say this:As a Black woman, I have known many people of different races who identified with and accepted our culture. During my years as an undergraduate at Grand Valley, I always had several close White female friends who I really felt the only way they differed from me was that skin color. (I won’t post their last names but I would love to know what Carrie, Stacy, Alicia, and Emily C. and Emily L. are up to!). The problem is not that Rachel Dolezal identified as a Black woman. The bigger issue is how much she LIED, and how she used whatever race she felt like using in order to reap the bigger benefit in a given situation–i.e. the lawsuit she leveled at Howard University, the historically Black university that offered her a scholarship under the unchecked assumption that, based on her portfolio of portraits of Black people, she was a Black woman, in which she claimed that she was discriminated against based on her gender and–wait for it–White race!

Then, although the NAACP has had PLENTY of White people in it, past and currently, who hold important posts, people who are to be commended because they see civil rights as not only a Black issue, but an issue of humanity, Dolezal saw a benefit to putting on the Black woman just as easily as she puts on her clothes everyday. Being Black is not a precursor to employment within the NAACP. It is apparent she has been tanning or using products to give her skin a darker tint, and as is seen in the pictures, she has experimented with her hair, even going so far as to wearing box braids.

The most absurd aspect of this entire thing is that Dolezal has even tried to make her family a part of this entire fiasco. Some of the stories she told–about living in South Africa, living in a teepee and hunting elk with a bow and arrow, etc., in addition to being Black in the first place–have been dashed to bits by her White parents. She tried to hush one of her adopted brothers, admonishing him not to “blow her cover”, and she had some random Black dude that she claimed to be her father come and give speeches in some of the African-American studies courses that she taught.

But her lies apparently did not end there. Dolezal has, on multiple occasions, claimed to have been the victim of hate crimes. Not saying that it isn’t possible, but the number of times and specifics of these alleged crimes are pretty doggone preposterous. I’ve been living the full Black experience for almost 34 years and have not experienced a single hate crime, nor have 100% of the Black people I know (although all of us have several experiences where we experienced discrimination or stereotypes and most of us have had at least one White person call us the N word).

A good link is below:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/06/rachel_dolezal_claims_to_be_the_target_of_hate_crimes_the_former_naacp_official.html

All of this, when you put it together, is fabulously sensational, but not in a good way.

First, I have to imagine the family dynamics here. I love my parents until the end of time and beyond. Dolezal’s parents say they have not seen her in two years. They would ruin her image if she was seen with them. My biggest question marks came from this discovery. How in the world can the pursuit of a deceptive lifestyle be more important than your own parents? Why drag innocent people, such as her adopted brother, into such a mess? This has not only caused a disruption to Rachel’s life, but what about her family?

Second, I am proud to be a Black woman, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to go from a privileged status to a not-so-privileged status. I cannot figure out why anyone would voluntarily sign up for this struggle. Admittedly, there are problems that ALL women face, that unite us. But it goes without saying that there are special struggles that come along with being a woman of color. Take these two headlines, for example:

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/03/3422550/black-women-education-work/

That article is from April of 2014, and says that despite the fact that Black women surpass all other groups in terms of college enrollment rates, our income does not reflect that. There is more in that article; it’s a good read. Here is another, published only a few months later in September of 2014:

http://www.ibtimes.com/american-black-women-face-grim-unemployment-statistics-1680172

Yet, what stereotypes dominate? That we are all fat, loud-mouthed welfare queens with five kids and three baby-daddies that run our men away and fail at raising our kids. When someone tells people of other races to close their eyes and picture a Black woman, I wonder what comes to their mind.

This?

This?

Or this?

Here’s a new perspective:

Side note: For anyone who is unfortunate enough to actively operate and base their beliefs about people on stereotypes, I feel sorry for you. I love that everyone is not the same. Why can’t we all just love and accept one another?? I’ve had memorable experiences with White people, Asian people, Native Americans (the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma was an amazing experience), Latinos, etc. I feel sorry for people who have limited themselves. That would be an absolutely miserable and boring existence for me.

I also have a problem with the “angry Black woman” stereotype. I don’t fit into that, but it has been assigned to me, much to my chagrin. In the work setting, when I had the same issue with my White female co-workers, I spoke my mind just as they did, in the same fashion. Yet, I was labeled as being aggressive and received more disciplinary action than the White women did. To be honest, I am still dealing with that, because it hurt my feelings. I guess I am supposed to be quiet when I am upset, lest I prove the angry Black woman stereotype by being equally assertive as my White counterparts.

I’ve gotten off-track again. Let me see if I can figure out what my initial point was supposed to be…

Oh, I remember. Just trying to figure out why Dolezal would want to be labeled.

I guess only Dolezal really knows why she did it. Did she tell a small lie, or, as she said in her interview today, fail to correct someone who assumed she was biracial, and that small lie or omission snowballed into what it became? You know how it is–sometimes you tell a little white lie, then you tell another to cover that one up, and then it gets out of control. Some people have said that she must have a mental issue, that maybe she really believes she is Black, but i my humble opinion the lawsuit against Howard shows that she knows good and well she is a White woman.

People have said that race is a social construct, but there is no denying that races share similar experiences. The hashtag #askrachel allowed me to relive my childhood and see how Black people across the entire country have a shared culture. Some of my favorites:

LOL…

At the end of the day, the biggest problem with this story is the dishonesty. There is nothing wrong with identifying with another race. There is a problem with this much lying. As of now, Dolezal really hasn’t offered up much in terms of remorse for any of the stories she has told. However, the sympathetic side of me sees that her life is indelibly changed from this–not only did she resign her post from the NAACP, she has also not been invited back as an adjunct instructor at Eastern Washington University, and I am sure this is not the end of this backlash. More and more comes out everyday. I don’t know how she’ll move on from this.

The second headline that caught my eye annoyed me just a tad.

How passing the plate becomes the Sunday morning stickup

Now, the contents of the article didn’t annoy me as much as the implications within. For whatever reason, there are still people who believe that pastors are out to financially fleece their flock. Well, of course, some of them are. I have said this before and will say it again–just because someone claims to be a Christian does not mean they are a Christian! A good pastor who has truly been called by God to preach His Word is not going to bankrupt his congregation for his own benefit. I have known ZERO pastors in my 33 years who did not have a job to support himself and his family as he built up his ministry.

I’d like to know the church that David Lee (of the article) was referring to. I wonder how people can be so easily caught up in what would appear to most to be an obvious sham, but then I remembered that people don’t read the Word for themselves to know what God truly says about tithes and offerings. Yes, as was mentioned in the article, nothing in the New Testament says definitively that Christians are to tithe 10%, and I believe I discussed a few days ago that Christians should give something, but not to limit themselves to10%–give whatever your heart desires based on what you can comfortably afford (with the understanding that God knows what you can truly afford because he is the author and originator of everything that sustains you!). God is more interested in a sincere and cheerful giving heart than he is in a specific amount, or a big showy presentation.

To combat the stereotype of pastors being money-hungry charlatans, I think it is necessary for each church to maintain financial transparency. At my church, any member can go and ask the trustees, the individuals who take care of the finances within the church (our pastor is hands-off with the money) for a detailed report of how much money the church took in any given Sunday, or month, and how much was spent and where the money went. We all know that there is no way Reverend Banks could afford his home or the nice cars that he and his wife drive on the little bit of money he gets from the congregation for his 24/7 job as our pastor. He worked for what he has. A pastor who loves his church isn’t going to want to take a bunch of money that can be used for the advancement of the kingdom out of the church to line his own pockets.

While the Gospel message should always be free, there are some expenses that come with having a church, just like there are expenses that come with owning and maintaining a home. Lights, heating and cooling, water, building maintenance, supplies for the bathrooms and kitchen, supplies for the services like fans, choir robes, Communion crackers, hymnals, etc… the list is ongoing. Who else is supposed to pay for those things? The pastor cannot do it on his own. I take pride in my church, as we all should. Have a sense of ownership for it! I am happy to contribute. My little bit of money helps make sure we can have water to baptize or food for someone who comes in off the streets and may be hungry. God gave me the money in the first place–all he asks for is some in return.

I did like that the article cleared up some common financial misconceptions. I do take personal offense to the idea of ALL pastors being crooked (not saying that this article says that, but we know it is a pervasive myth) simply because there are a few bad apples in the bunch. At the end of the day those guys get to answer to God, and I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they do.

Bad things happen when money becomes one’s idol. I wonder if crooked pastors actually start out humbly and get corrupted by the money, or if they are not men of God but instead opportunists who have identified a way to get some easy money. I think there is a combination of both in the Christian world.

While we’re on the subject of idols… golden calves make bad idols as well. Chapter 32 of Exodus is one of my favorites. There are certain Biblical events that simply baffle me–Judas Iscariot’s betrayal is one. After all he’d seen Jesus do, it is amazing that he still betrayed him. Others are things that I just cannot process with my limited human knowledge–like Jonah in the belly of the beast, the sun and moon standing still in the story of Joshua, Elijah being taken up to heaven. This calf-worshiping incident is beyond amazing.

So, let’s again run down what God has done for the Israelites, things they have seen with their own eyes:

The plagues: blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and firstborn;

The parting of the Red Sea;

Being guided by the pillar of cloud;

The piece of wood being thrown into the bitter water, causing it to be fit to drink;

The raining down of manna and quail from the sky;

Water coming from a rock;

and not to mention the scene they just encountered when as Moses was summoned to Mt. Sinai in chapter 19, with the thunder and lightning and the voice of God.

I guess the people thought Moses was taking too long. Perhaps they thought he had gone up there and died or abandoned them??? I dunno. All I know is what the Scripture says: The people approached Aaron and said, “…Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (32:1).

Sigh.

We’re only one verse in and I am done.

Wow, these people are short-sighted, aren’t they? I understand that the people weren’t allowed to approach Mt. Sinai, but weren’t they informed of what Moses was up there doing? Although they may not have had any understanding that he was receiving the Laws that would guide them, surely they knew he was going to talk to  God, as he had been doing on their behalf this entire time??

Interestingly enough, the people admit that they don’t know what has become of Moses. Yet, they should have been focused on God. Even if Moses had gone up there and died, where was their faith in God?

Again, their lack of faith was about to get the Israelites in trouble. But aren’t we the same way sometimes today? Aren’t we short-sighted? Think of how we are when we first come to Christ sometimes, or how we are when we re-dedicate ourselves to Christ. We usually do so in the midst of turmoil. It is much easier to forget about God when things are going well. We’re out of a job, our kids are acting up, our marriage is in shambles, our money is funny, we’re coming out of addiction, etc… something has caused some upheaval in our lives. When we start getting back into our Word, start praying, start going back to church and then receive a blessing of deliverance from that problem from God, don’t we sometimes start neglecting our prayer life or get a bit lax in our Sunday services attendance? We get our blessing, forget about God, and bolt. It’s easy for spiritual babes such as the Israelites to do this. Seasoned saints ought to know better but are not exempt.

Recall that the Israelites did not yet have possession of those stone tablets on which God inscribed the Laws with his own finger, so technically they had not yet received the commandment that prohibited them from idol worship, at least not in written form. However, God has told them on multiple occasions that he is the Lord their God and that they should have no other gods. The concept of having a god they could see and touch, albeit made by the hands of an imperfect man, was more natural than the concept of a God that they could not see.

This is the nature of humanity today. The arguments people make against the existence of God make my ears burn. People want proof. They want something they can see or hear. Yet, the existence of God is shown daily in nature and in other people. But people believe what they want, and if they lack faith, then of course they won’t attribute godly things and events to God.

Even more baffling was Aaron’s response. Instead of rebuking the Israelites, he decided to appease them. Did he think this was an unpunishable offense? Was he simply trying to keep the massive nation of Israelites under crowd control by giving them what they want? Here is where we see how Aaron and Moses differed strongly. We see why Moses was put in the leadership role. Aaron may have had good intentions. Maybe he was overwhelmed. Let’s set the possible scene–a nation of over a million people were looking to him for leadership, a job for which he was completely unequipped. And we know how the Israelites could complain when they did not get their way. The Bible does not say, but imagine if the Israelites had been grumbling for several hours. Just like innocent people sometimes do after they are interrogated for hours at a time, perhaps Aaron just broke and gave in to shut them up. Or maybe this was his shot at the leadership spot that he had secretly coveted? I dunno.

“Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me” (32:2).

The people obey, and Aaron took their contributions and fashioned a golden calf with a tool. Let that sink in for a minute before we get to the next verse–Aaron, a man, took a tool and used it to make a golden idol from the jewelry they had just taken off their ears, and the Israelites were satisfied:

“These are your gods,  Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt” (32:4).

One facepalm is not good enough in this situation:

The Egyptians were religious, but their religion was polytheistic–they worshiped many gods. Two of their popular gods were Hapi and Hathor, who were oftentimes pictured as a bull and a heifer, so apparently there was some symbolism to the calf. It was probably a comfortable figure for the Israelites.

It didn’t end there.

“When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, ‘Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord'” (32:5).

I wonder how big this thing was? How long it took him to make it? Anyway. Interesting that he had just built a calf but was still dedicating the festival to the Lord. So perhaps he thought it acceptable to give the Israelites some type of physical depiction of the Lord. Either way it goes, the relationships that Moses and Aaron and the entire nation of Israel have with God prove one point–the closer a relationship you have with God, the less likely you are to be disobedient. That was true then and is true today. The two brothers also show that people of God have to be courageous in the face of sin. It is safe to say that had the people approached Moses and demanded a god, he would have told them no. Although it is not confirmed that Aaron’s motive was simply to keep the people happy, if that’s why he did it, that weakness proves that he was not leadership material. (And it is okay if some people are followers–they just have to follow the right people. Everybody is not a natural born leader). We have to be spiritually strong today. Our world is bursting at the seams with sin. Of course since I am an American I can only speak of my experience as such, and it is no secret that we’re just falling away from God at an alarmingly rapid rate. And we are penalized for believing in and living the Word of God. The world system tells us that it is wrong for us not to support gay marriage or abortion. Our Bible-based opinions and lifestyles are thought of us restrictive and promoting intolerance and hatred. What do I say to the world? Oh well. When the 2004, when the possibility to redefine marriage came up here in Michigan, I was verbal when I was asked how I felt about it. I spoke with my mind and my vote. Marriage is of God and is between a man and a woman. I made some people angry with my response, but I am going to act based on my beliefs, just like they do. What I don’t get about unbelievers is that they act based on what they believe, but when Christians act based on what they believe, we’re being hateful. ????

The Israelites have their party the next day, complete with sacrifices and offerings, food and drink. Indeed it was probably a very merry atmosphere–down there. Back up on Mt. Sinai, I’ll bet God was too fit to be tied. I mean, he was in the very midst of giving the Law, and before he was even fully finished the people were breaking one of the most important ones. God sees everything! He tells Moses to hurry back down the mountain because his people have corrupted themselves by making an idol in the shape of a calf. He further refers to the people as stiff-necked, and basically tells Moses he needs a minute to clean house:

“Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I might destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation” (32:10).

What interests me is what Moses does next. God’s anger is absolutely justifiable. But think of Moses, who has been completely burdened by these people since the day God appointed him their earthly deliverer. He actually pleads on behalf of the Israelites by reminding God of the covenant he made with Abraham. Moses had a chance to himself be made into a great nation, but he is not thinking of himself and his own self-elevation here–he is obviously thinking at a higher level:

“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil  intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel (Jacob), to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever'” (32:12-13).

God had done mighty things getting the Israelites out of Egypt. Had he wiped them out, not only would the Egyptians have had the last laugh and been left doubting the God of Israel, God had made a promise. Unlike people, God doesn’t break promises. So he relented. That did not mean the people would not be punished, but they definitely got away with a major whopper.

The Israelites have no idea how close they got to being plant food. They are still living it up at their little festival, whooping and hollering and dancing around the calf.  Moses descends the mountains with the tablets in his hands and meets up with Joshua, who was waiting for him at the bottom of the mountain, removed from the Israelite camp. Joshua hears the noise coming from the camp and acknowledges it, and Moses lets him in on what is going on. I am sure he was a combination of sad and angry when he said,

“It is not the sound of victory, it is not the sound of defeat. It is the sound of singing that I hear”(32:18).

When Moses gets a full visual of the idolatrous mess taking place before him, he is infuriated. I can only guess how frustrated he was. Forty days and forty nights receiving the law and this is what he comes home to? Yikes. In his fury, he overreacted only by throwing the tablets to the ground, dashing them to bits. His next action of burning the calf in a fire was absolutely appropriate. Moses took the burnt residue of the calf, ground it into powder, mixed the powder into water and made the people drink it. Interesting punishment. I’ll bet it was a disgusting drink–was that symbolic, that they were able to have a physical representation as to how bitter their sin was? Some people have theorized that perhaps Moses did this to render the materials used to make the golden calf completely unusable. After being consumed, the remnants of the calf would pass through the Israelites as waste and therefore be contaminated.

Moses’ exchange with Aaron is also notable. Perhaps Moses is protective of his brother, or maybe he knows his brother is weak of character. He asks Aaron what the people did to him that caused him to lead them into such great sin. I wonder how Moses knew that Aaron did not take it upon himself to make the calf. He must have known his spiritually weaker brother had bent to some form of badgering. Maybe this is a testament to Aaron’s overall good character–he might have been that guy that just wanted to make people happy without exercising good judgment. Either way, Aaron follows with a rather cowardly response in my opinion, one where he takes no personal responsibility:

“…You know how prone these people are to evil” (32:22b).

WOW. Since he obviously knew the people were ‘prone to evil’, shouldn’t that have given him more of a reason to tell the people NO? He knew they needed a spiritually strong leader. It could have been him, but he failed. As if that wasn’t enough, Aaron continued on with one of the best lies told in the Bible. Recall that Aaron used a tool to make the calf. Now he expects Moses to believe that he just took the peoples’ jewelry, threw it into the fire, and POOF! Out came a calf. The following verses further attest to his failure:

“Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord, come to me’. And all the Levites rallied to him” (32:25-26).

So apparently the enemy nations were watching the Israelites make complete fools of themselves. I wonder why only the Levites went to Moses at this point. I doubt they participated in this idol worship. Were the others too ashamed? I know how that goes. You know how sometimes after you’ve sinned, you forget that you can just confess and ask for forgiveness and instead let your sin become a chasm between you and God? I wonder if the others were scared, and that the magnitude of their sin was sinking in, and they were feeling that type of way–that they were no longer worthy to be with the Lord. I can only imagine their motives. Perhaps they just preferred their man-made idol. Yet if that was the case, I wonder why they continued their journey with Moses–perhaps they hadn’t yet grasped that they could not serve their now-absent idol and the True God at the same time.

The Levites are faced with an unenviable test–to go through the camp with their swords and kill their brother, friend, and neighbor who had rejected God. With unfaltering obedience. the Levites slay 3,000 Israelites and show their true devotion to God. Upon completion, Moses tells them “You have been set apart to the Lord today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day” (32:29). This signifies a shift in God’s plan for the Israelites. Instead of an entirely priestly nation, the Levites will be the priests.

With this, Moses turns to the shame-faced people and tells them they have committed a great sin for which he would have to go back up to Mt. Sinai and plead their case. I like that he says perhaps I can make atonement for your sins” (32:30b). Moses already knows that the Lord is not going to destroy Israel, but certainly that statement had them shaking in their boots (sandals? Bare feet??) just a tad. I’ll bet they were on edge the entire time he was back up there, just wondering what God, the same God who parted the Red Sea, was going to do to them.

Moses pleads that the sin be forgiven, and God responds by saying that anyone who has sinned against him will be blotted out of his book (similar to the unforgivable sin that man commits now when he rejects Jesus Christ. This sin will keep his name from appearing in the Lamb’s Book of Life). He tells Moses to get back to his job of leading the people to the Promised Land, informing him that when the time comes for their punishment, it will definitely happen.

And it does. God strikes the people with a plague. Some debate whether or not Aaron was properly punished for his construction of the calf and the lie that followed. I suppose his punishment was sufficient–he lost two sons (Nadab and Abihu) and died before seeing the Promised Land. Others say Aaron should not have been allowed to continue on as High Priest. The only problem with that is that God had already appointed him, so would it have been just for God to rescind the position? And, Aaron was a Levite, and when Moses called for those who believed in the Lord to come to him, Aaron stepped forward. I think there is a bigger point here as well–God does not expect perfect, sinless people. He takes ordinary, flawed people and uses them. If we do something wrong, he spanks us to get us back into shape. If God only wanted to use people who had never done anything wrong, there would be no one in church today. Yes, Aaron committed one terrible sin, but again, there are no degrees to sin. God gave the commandments, but he did not list specific punishments that went along with them. He did not say that idol worship equaled a death sentence, for example, or that murder equaled a life sentence. God punishes how he wants to. He gives punishments that are perfectly just. I also wonder to what extent did Aaron worship the idol. Did he dance around it and bow down to it with the rest of the people? I’m curious, but the Word does not say.

It’s just an example of how beautifully ambiguous the Bible is at times. I’ve read the entire thing and been fascinated by all of the characters. Other than believing (or not believing) in God, I am the type of person who likes to understand why people do the things they do. Oftentimes when I read the Word I would love to have more insight into what the people were thinking. But perhaps that information is left out so we can instead make appropriate comparisons between the spiritual victories and defeats that define these people. There were many possible reasons that may have compelled Aaron to lead the Israelites into this sin, but there are numerous implications that come from it that can be applied to our lives today.

That’s what I love about this book. One passage of Scripture or even one Scripture alone (in the correct context) can have multiple meanings. I dare unbelievers to find me another book that reads the same way. I’ll wait…

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