Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Victimizing the Victim

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 -- Week of 5 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 957)
Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning) 124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)
Exodus 5:1 - 6:1
1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40
Mark 9:42-50

The tactics of Pharaoh remain with us to this day. When Moses asks for a precursor to the sabbath, an opportunity to stop working in order to worship God, Pharaoh's reaction is swift. Victimize the victim; punish those who demand justice. The people are lazy. Increase productivity. Make them gather their own straw and keep the quotas high. If they complain, punish the complainers. No mercy for whistleblowers.

Kathy's grandfather was a Baptist minister in South Carolina in the 1920's. He preached in a mill town, where a large portion of his congregation worked in a textile mill. The mills tried to confront lowered profits because of a post-war overproduction problem with a strategy called "stretch out." Each factory person was given more looms to work, break times limited, lower pay, and more supervisors to enforce higher production. When the National Recovery Agency set the forty hour work week, mill owners required the same amount of work as had been produced previously in the fifty and sixty hour weeks.

Although they were largely unorganized by the fledgling United Textile Workers union, almost a half-million workers walked off their jobs from New England through the Southeastern U.S. in 1934 -- still regarded as the largest strike in our nation's history. It lasted twenty-two days and was brutally suppressed. The governor of South Carolina deputized "mayors, sheriffs, peace officers and every good citizen" to maintain order and called out the National Guard with orders to shoot any picketers who entered the mill. Gangs of ruffians-turned-militia beat and shot strikers. They threatened families and homes. The brutality worked. Workers returned to the mills defeated and cowed from further resistance. Many scholars trace the general lack of union presence in the South to the memory of the trauma so many families suffered in their one experience of a strike.

For Kathy the strange thing about this part of her family's story was the shame. It took her years to piece together the story, because no one was willing to talk about it. Her father had supported the strikers. He lost his job and the family had to relocate. That's how they came to Mississippi. It was remembered as a dark time, and no one brought it up. At first, Kathy thought her grandfather had done something terrible or immoral. "Why did Granddaddy leave South Carolina?" "Oh he got into some bad trouble up there." It took years for her to learn, he stood up for the striking textile workers. When Kathy finally uncovered the whole story, she was proud of her father. She was the first in her family to react so.

Pharaoh knows how to victimize the victims. Southerners like Kathy's grandfather internalized the suffering and the violence that broke their claim for justice, and they felt guilty for the ruin of their families and livelihoods. We see victims victimized sometimes in situations of violence against women, injustices tolerated against immigrants, and some attacks on gay people.

The abuse of power and the economics of Pharaoh didn't stop with the Exodus. And God is still working to set the people free.

The church proclaims an alternative power, the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is how this world would be if God were in charge rather than Pharaoh. The Kingdom of God upholds the place of the little and the lost, the weak and the vulnerable. Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, who yearn for right.

In Christ, God became the victim of every abuse of power and overcame its destructiveness with resurrection power. The Risen Lord invites us into that triumphant resurrection Kingdom of God, which continues the Exodus work of overturning injustice and victimization in the name of God. Against such spiritual power, Pharaoh cannot prevail. And I'm proud to be married to the daughter of that Baptist preacher from South Carolina.




Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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